Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Atlanta

Archdiocese of Atlanta, Diocese of Savannah welcome independent review of child abuse files

By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published May 10, 2019

ATLANTA—A third-party review of any records of the Archdiocese of Atlanta regarding suspected child abuse will begin soon and is fully supported by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, who first encouraged the independent study of files last fall.

Even with Archbishop Gregory’s appointment as archbishop of Washington, the review will take place. The review will be conducted by the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council (PAC), which is the judicial branch government agency supporting Georgia prosecutors and their staffs. The PAC will also conduct a similar review of records of the Diocese of Savannah.

With the support of Archbishop Gregory and Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, OFM Conv., of the Diocese of Savannah, the archdiocese and the diocese expressed willingness to permit the PAC to conduct a review of any records, files, documents and reports concerning suspected child abuse.

In January, Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr facilitated a meeting to formalize the process between Peter J. Skandalakis, executive director of PAC; Perry J. McGuire and Stephen M. Forte, attorneys for the Archdiocese of Atlanta; and Francis J. Mulcahy, executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference.

Skandalakis will lead the review in accordance with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to which all parties have agreed regarding the process. This is an independent evaluation by PAC. The Archdiocese of Atlanta and Diocese of Savannah will have no oversight and have agreed to complete cooperation.

A report will be issued upon conclusion of the review by Skandalakis, who told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he trusts all relevant records will be turned over to PAC “and I have no reason to not believe that simply because the archbishop is the one who really wants this done. I really believe the archbishop wants an open and transparent process.”

Frank Mulcahy of the Georgia Catholic Conference said “all parties agreed that PAC would be fair and objective.”

In August 2018, following the resignation of Theodore McCarrick from the College of Cardinals and the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, Archbishop Gregory acknowledged to the people of God in the Archdiocese of Atlanta that “our trustworthiness as bishops has been so seriously compromised that acting alone—even with the best of intentions and the highest principles, policies and plans—may not move the hearts of the faithful to believe.”

Before departing Atlanta to become the new leader of the Archdiocese of Washington, Archbishop Gregory provided additional details on the decision to seek a third-party evaluation of documents regarding suspected abuse. He said discussions with Carr and staff members of the attorney general’s office and the archdiocese began last fall on ways to make the church’s records fully transparent through a third party.

“From our very first conversation I have encouraged this independent review, and now I welcome it. I believe with all my heart that if there are things in our records that the people of God need to know, we must rely on independent, objective and determined eyes to find and reveal them—once and for all,” said Archbishop Gregory. “I remain completely confident that the promises made and the processes put in place over the past two decades have rendered our Catholic churches and schools among the safest environments in our state, as they should be and that this review will bear that out. There are no priests currently in ministry against whom there are credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.”

The archbishop said if failures are uncovered from the past, they will be addressed.

“If there are consequences, we will accept them. Only then may the healing commence. Only then may we hope to reconcile your uncompromised faith in the heavenly Father with confidence in his church’s earthly leaders,” he said. “Only then may we bishops ask contritely and humbly for God’s boundless mercy and continue our work in his holy name.”

In August, when the Pennsylvania grand jury report was made public, Archbishop Gregory offered a prayer for light to break through the darkness.

“I pray that all victims and survivors of sexual abuse will come forward and receive the help, support and healing they need. And I pray that our church and our leadership will be renewed and transformed by the light of Christ and have the courage to take the necessary next steps,” he said.

Bishop Hartmayer and Archbishop Gregory said this is “only one step of the many we must take” to restore trust.

“We are grateful to the attorney general and the PAC for their diligence and professionalism, and we assure them and you of our full cooperation,” said Archbishop Gregory.

Stephen Forte of Smith, Gambrell & Russell, archdiocesan attorney, said that the review is expected to last at least a year and is being undertaken in a spirit of cooperation among all parties.

Forte emphasized that prior internal reviews by the lay advisory board in Atlanta were undertaken to demonstrate transparency and the review by the PAC is in continuation of that policy. On Nov. 7, 2018 the archdiocese published a list of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor in the past and stated it would update the list if new credible accusations of sexual abuse of a minor are determined.

Mulcahy said the MOU took effect on May 1, and he expects the review to officially begin in the near future.