VAC Interview: Sue Stubbs, Archdiocese of Atlanta

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. 

I am a Georgia native! Grew up in Atlanta with my six siblings and went to Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Atlanta through high school.  I went on to North GA College in Dahlonega, graduated with a BS in Psychology and then worked there as Residence Life Coordinator for two years before moving on to GA State University and where I earned a MS in Community Counseling by 1993.  I focused most of my graduate work on adolescents with a history of abuse and worked at The Bridge Family Center in downtown Atlanta for two years after graduate school.  My faith continued growing throughout all this time and I felt a strong need to share it with teenagers.  I then worked as a Youth Minister at a local parish for two years. After that I wondered a bit working in my Dad’s construction company as assistant office manager and then for a software company as Benefits Coordinator. During this time I couldn’t figure out what God was doing as I wasn’t really using my degree but my faith continued to grow and mature.

What drew you to this work? How long have you been a VAC?

Then the VAC job opened up in the Archdiocese of Atlanta at just the right time as the software company was merging and many changes were taking place.  I applied for the VAC position and everything fell into place when I got the job – God used ALL of my work history to prepare me for this vocation!  I’ve been here for the past 16 years and it truly is where I am meant to be. My love for my faith and the wound of abuse that really does occur across all divides called me to do what I can to help with the healing that is so great a need.

Have you seen any changes of attitudes in the Church towards abuse survivors during your time working as a VAC?

Yes! I saw it most clearly when I sat on the panel for Understanding Victims of Sex Abuse: in Culture, Society, and the Church (at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in 2019 where we pondered in our hearts Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Guadium – Joy of the Gospel) whose message was to attend to souls on the fringes of society. The Church faithful definitely include victims/survivors of the abuse of power – especially sexual abuse – in that population that is on the fringes at least in their hearts that have so wounded. This panel was a conversation between a group of lay-faithful with a Bishop and other clergy – it was clear that they agreed with a point I kept in the forefront during our time together: victim/survivors of abuse are those sitting next to you in the pews at Mass, behind the table with you at a bake sale after Mass raising money for a Youth Group trip, in the Rosary group with you praying etc.– they are invisible heroes that feel like they are on the fringe but they are actually seated right next to you every day!  Some may share their experience with you but more likely than not you will never know you have encountered a survivor.  That is why it is essential that we live the Gospel minute to minute…in doing so we become part of the healing of this grave threat that so deeply wounds the entire human race…giving the love of Jesus to those all around us at all times.

Before you became a VAC, how aware had you been of the sexual abuse crisis?

To be honest, I was not any more aware than anyone sitting in the pews at Mass.  I was just moving along in my life living day to day as best I could; it was on my radar but it seemed surreal.  Like so many when it comes to addressing sexual abuse in any way – our first reaction is to become an ostrich and stick our head in the sand and believe that it is someone else’s problem to solve. Most people unconsciously err on the side of  “This doesn’t happen in MY circle”…but the harsh and tragic reality is that it does happen in every ‘circle’ across the board…in every nation, culture, race, socio-economic grouping, religion, gender, occupation, age group etc. And every member of the human race has a role to play in the healing of this grave injustice – some more directly than others – but all of us just the same.

How is it different to experience it as a VAC? How do you think the average person in the pews can support victim-survivors?

Once I became VAC, I was in a position to talk with these invisible heroes directly…I see them…there is a voice, a face, a life attached to something that is so big it is hard to wrap your head and heart around.  That is one of the biggest challenges for those in the pews to come to terms with – see the person, respond to an individual need.  I have people ask me What can we do to help?

  • My first answer is always: Pray for them, with focus and conviction. One of the first programs I started as VAC was a prayer effort called Cry to Heaven where parishes across the Archdiocese of Atlanta were called to dedicate a part of the prayer that they are all already doing in their community to the healing for victims of abuse: Rosary groups, Adoration hours, Men’s and Women’s prayer groups etc. We also invited those who participate in our annual Eucharistic Congress to place a card in an Offertory basket with the first name of anyone they know who is a victim/survivor of abuse and this is placed at the altar so that 30,000 of God’s people are praying for victim/survivors all at once!  That is POWER on a mighty level!
  • Also, focus on the people around you at Mass especially at the Sign of Peace. Look them in the eye and shake their hand warmly and intentionally – this will communicate that you SEE them…this is a direct way to address that wound without needing to know if they are a victim/survivor. Chances are that with 1 in 4 females and 1 in 5 males experiencing abuse in their lifetime that in a year of Masses you will have shared a healing action through your Sign of Peace over 100 times! That is HEALING on a mighty and PERSONAL level!
  • Make it a priority to become familiar with what the Office of Child and Youth Protection offers for victim/survivors of abuse in your diocese. Then, if you happen to be one of the people they share their story with, just listen with your heart and if they are not already in touch with the VAC in your diocese, grab a parish bulletin and show them the contact information there for the VAC. You could open the door they need to what the Church has to offer them to begin or continue their healing journey.

What is one thing that you have done or seen as a VAC that you think Catholics would be edified by hearing about?

I am heartened to see that most of the victim/survivors I’ve worked with have not lost their faith in God and/or the Catholic Church. For many of them their faith was something they have clung to and continue to cling to as providing a pathway to healing. Also, the Bishops I have worked with and met along the way have all been genuinely undone by the plight of the victim/survivors in their flock and are actively involved in responding to their needs. This makes my vocation infinitely more powerful and allows me what I need to take it to a level that makes a real difference to these souls – i.e. retreats, trauma groups etc.

What would you want people to understand about your role?

That it isn’t ‘just a job’ to me, it’s my vocation. I am certain that this is where God needs me to be and it is not a burden to me, but a blessing.  I am honored to work with these wonderful people, they gift me in many ways they may never know, and I see the Holy Spirit moving so clearly in their lives, my life and the life of the Church.