Monday, February 9, 2004

The official in charge of implementing a program to protect children from sexual abuse within the Catholic Diocese of Arlington resigned Friday after barely six months on the job.

Catherine Nolan, the former victim-assistance coordinator and child-protection safety director for the diocese, had been targeted by many Catholic parents for backing “Good Touch, Bad Touch,” an anti-sexual-abuse program for children.

Miss Nolan, who was hired last August for a one-year period, said she was not pushed out.

“I chose to leave,” she said yesterday. “I requested permission to step down. It was my request to resign. They really wanted me to stay on, but I really felt my work was done, and I really accomplished a lot in the six months I was there.”

Diocesan officials said yesterday that Bishop Paul S. Loverde would make a decision “soon” on whether the diocese will retain “Good Touch, Bad Touch.”

The program, which describes proper and improper touching between adults and children, has been criticized for being too sexually explicit for elementary school-age children.

The bishop issued a statement yesterday expressing “sincere gratitude” for Miss Nolan’s tenure.

The diocese’s lack of a sexual-abuse-prevention program was criticized last month by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which listed Arlington as one of 19 dioceses not fully compliant with a Jan. 6 audit on clergy sexual abuse.

Miss Nolan, a former director of the Office of Child Abuse and Neglect for the Department of Health and Human Services, was brought in by the diocese to sell “Good Touch, Bad Touch.” A diocesan priest began retooling the program to fit Catholic specifications, and two information sessions were held to explain its curriculum.

On Jan. 12, the night of the second session, 230 parents filled a Manassas church and demanded Miss Nolan and three other diocesan officials present kill the program. The officials had been frequently drowned out by jeers and catcalls during the meeting.

Miss Nolan got into further hot water at a Jan. 24 diocesan Parent Teacher Organization meeting at St. Ambrose Church in Annandale. There, Terry Wear, the pro-life coordinator for Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Annandale, asked her if she was pro-life.

Miss Nolan refused to answer the question, calling it a “personal decision” and citing a need to work with all kinds of people in the diocese.

“For Catholics, it’s not a personal decision,” Mr. Wear said later. “At a minimum, anyone saying that appears incompetent. What would she do with a pregnant minor: send her to Planned Parenthood?”

Then, an essay about Miss Nolan came out Feb. 4 in an e-mail newsletter from Deal Hudson, publisher of Crisis magazine, criticizing her response to Mr. Wear and her role in backing a program he termed “simply too graphic for young children.”

Mary Beth Style, a social worker in the diocese, said parents held no personal grudges against Miss Nolan, who has been replaced by a part-time social worker, Jennifer Alvaro.

“She was just the wrong person for the job,” Mrs. Style said.

“She was a typical bureaucrat, mostly into statistics with little experience outside the [Health and Human Services] crowd.”

As for the diocese, “They need to start communicating with us,” she said. “The anger and the frustration in the parishes is rising daily.”

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