February 15, 2006

Breach of Faith

Seattle Weekly

By Nina Shapiro

In 1988, a woman showed up at the South Seattle office of a counseling center called Therapy and Renewal Associates, known as TARA, saying she had been abused by a Catholic priest while in high school. According to her later account, she was referred to TARA by the Seattle Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church. TARA was run by two extraordinary people—a nun and a priest who had formed a highly unusual professional and personal partnership. Sister Fran Ferder and the Rev. John Heagle practiced as internationally known therapists while advancing what for the church were subversive ideas about sexuality and church hierarchy. They were at the center of the Seattle Archdiocese's response to a nascent sexual-abuse crisis that was beginning to grip the Catholic Church nationwide.

The nature of the counseling the woman received at Therapy and Renewal Associates in 1988 is the subject of a recently filed lawsuit that questions in whose interest they were acting: that of the woman, who was ostensibly their client, or the church. It could be another example of the church's early tendency to minimize the consequences of sexual abuse by priests. And the charges suggest the need for scrutiny of one of the least-understood aspects of the Catholic abuse crisis—the role of the therapists used by the church to help both victims and perpetrators. But the story of therapists Ferder and Heagle is not a simple one. It is as complex as the conduct of the archdiocese itself during this pivotal period.

Seeing the sex-abuse problem firsthand, Ferder and Heagle began to ask controversial questions about why it was happening. They took up an issue the church hierarchy considers nondebatable, celibacy, which they both argue should be optional.Ferder and Heagle helped draw up the Seattle Archdiocese's initial protocols for dealing with abuse allegations, protocols that were at the time far more progressive than those of virtually every other archdiocese in the country. The protocols included removing a priest immediately when allegations surfaced. The nun and the priest were also part of a response team the archdiocese deployed for "listening sessions" in shaken communities that had learned of abuse in their midst.

Posted by kshaw at February 15, 2006 07:39 AM