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Atlanta archdiocese must ensure sex abuse hasn't a prayer

Atlanta Journal Consititution
Published on: April 21, 2004

There's some serious denial going on at the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta.

The firings of Ann Price and Sally Horan, integral players in the archdiocese's effort to implement nationally required reforms to protect children from abuse by clergy, raise a major red flag about the church's efforts to identify and serve victims.

The two women claim they were fired for daring to tell church leaders that the archdiocese wasn't doing enough to comply with the new rules. Both positions are required by the reforms and have been vacant now for several months.

Kathi Stearns, vice chancellor and spokeswoman for the archdiocese, can't comment on the personnel decisions. Church leaders are conducting a national search for their replacements, she said.

Horan, a licensed counselor, was a volunteer on the bishop's abuse advisory board. The reforms require at least one board member to have expertise in the treatment of sexually abused children. Horan's most troubling accusation is that victims of alleged abuse were directed to call church officials before calling police, which is fundamentally wrong.

Price's job was to coordinate the church's sexual abuse victim's assistance and safe environment program — critical components for rebuilding public trust. She was fired in January, 4 1/2 months after Archbishop John Donoghue hired her.

After church leaders asked her to give sexual abuse training to all employees and volunteers of the archdiocese, Price planned a six-hour workshop for clergy as a first step. She said the session was rejected by the bishop's advisory board because it was too long. When she asked for an audience with the board, they allegedly refused.

Horan and Price say the Atlanta archdiocese isn't serious about identifying or serving victims, and note that they were kept on just long enough for the archdiocese to pass the audit process required by church charter. Already, national Catholic leaders have deferred a decision on holding further audits until November. Previously, bishops said they would hold annual audits.

"The audits are important," said Price. "Or places like Atlanta will backslide, like they already have. Truly, I feel used."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Web site instructs sex abuse victims to contact local authorities as well as victim assistant coordinators assigned by the church. More than 100 contacts and phone numbers are listed by diocese. Atlanta is the only listing with no contact.

Church critics have every right to be troubled by these developments. If the archdiocese expects the public to have faith in its adherence to reform guidelines, it must fill these key positions as soon as possible. If the badly needed reforms are to work, leaders must be open to criticism and guidance from trained professionals. The last thing the church needs is more secrecy and denial.

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