Archbishop offers ‘heartfelt apology,’ commitment to ‘make amends’
By Agnieszka Ruck, The B.C. Catholic
[Vancouver – Canadian Catholic News] – A groundbreaking report (www.rcav.org/abuse-report) by an Archdiocese of Vancouver review committee on clerical sexual abuse has been released, containing 31 recommendations and responses and naming Vancouver priests who have been criminally convicted, named in settled lawsuits or the subject of other public cases.
The 12-page report, released by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, has been published online and in this week’s B.C. Catholic. It is the culmination of a months-long survey of sexual abuse cases that took place in the Archdiocese of Vancouver since 1950 and is the first report of its kind released by any diocese in Canada.
Archbishop Michael Miller accepted all the committee’s recommendations and has launched an Implementation Working Group to work out the practical details for carrying out the recommendations.
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Archbishop Miller of Vancouver begins the report with a pastoral letter in which he personally addresses victims of sexual abuse.
“I realize that no expression of regret can repair the horror of what happened,” he writes in the letter, which is being read at weekend Masses.
“Although nothing can undo the wrong that was done to you, I nonetheless wish to offer each of you my heartfelt apology for the trauma, the violation in body and soul, and the sense of betrayal and abandonment by the Church that you feel. For those occasions when we failed to protect you or when we were more concerned with the Church’s reputation than with your suffering, I am truly sorry and ask for your forgiveness as I strive to make amends and bind your wounds.”
Meanwhile, Archbishop Miller has been appointed chair of a national bishops committee on preventing clerical abuse. He will head the new Standing Committee for Responsible Ministry and the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons, created by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to advise on best practices for safeguarding the vulnerable and implementing CCCB guidelines in its national guidelines, Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse, released last year.
Archbishop Miller said it has taken the global Catholic Church “far too long” to address the “particularly devastating consequences” of abuse by priests.
A dramatic exposé of clergy abuse has not engulfed Vancouver on the same scale as Pennsylvania and other dioceses. But after urging from abuse survivors and justice activists, Archbishop Miller announced in 2018 he would investigate his archdiocese’s history of dealing with abuse.
The process took 13 months, beginning in October 2018 with his launch of a 13-member archdiocesan Case Review Committee whose task was to study clerical sexual abuse cases from 1950 onward.
The seven-woman, six-man committee included five lawyers, two clergy, one religious sister, a psychologist, two prison chaplains, a hospital chaplain, an elementary school teacher, and a ministry coordinator. Four members were victims of clergy abuse.
In a series of lengthy, confidential gatherings, the committee discussed 36 cases of abuse by clergy – 26 involving abuse of a minor, seven dealing with abuse of an adult, and three concerning priests who had fathered children.
By July 13 of this year, the committee had penned 31 recommendations and said one of members’ “most devastating realizations” was that victims who had come forward before the early 1990s had been made to sign confidentiality agreements, “which meant that their stories were not made public.”
Barred from speaking out against abusive priests, “there are still people in this archdiocese who continue to suffer in silence, keeping unhealthy secrets to themselves, living in shame that is not theirs to hold, believing they are alone and believing they are the only ones who have suffered such violation and degradation at the hands of a particular priest,” the committee said in its report.
“This has to stop and this has to stop now.”
The archdiocese has not required confidentiality agreements since the early 1990s and has waived any previously signed agreements.
The committee’s recommendations include establishing an independent intake office for receiving allegations of sexual abuse; publishing the names and photos of clerics who are convicted, found “credibly accused,” or have admitted to abuse; and requiring all people who work with children (religious or lay) to undergo safe environment training on recognizing and reporting inappropriate behaviour.
The recommendations also call for mandatory performance reviews for all priests in the archdiocese; a study of seminary training and screening; ongoing healing and reconciliation opportunities for victims; and a Canada-wide registry of priests with credible accusations against them.
The report includes archdiocesan responses to each of the recommendations, some of which (such as establishing an anonymous abuse reporting phone line) have already been implemented. Most have deadlines of next year, while others “require more time and reflection before being acted upon,” said the archbishop.
The report says some recommendations are complicated by Canadian privacy laws.
Archdiocesan lawyer Mary Margaret MacKinnon called the review process a challenging but “transformative” experience. By discussing clergy abuse cases with 12 people holding divergent opinions, “we were able to see things from different perspectives and understand how people felt and what needed to change. Hopefully that’s the voice you hear in the recommendations we’ve made,” she said in an interview with The B.C. Catholic.
“There was a huge amount of respect, compassion, and goodwill in the room and that resulted in some fundamentally directive shifts.”
Those shifts include hiring independent investigators to study all allegations of sexual abuse by clergy; encouraging victims to speak out rather than suffer in silence; and employing a lay person rather than a priest to receive abuse allegations through an external Intake Office.
MacKinnon said it is archdiocesan policy to notify police when anyone presents an abuse allegation.
Victims of sexual abuse by clergy in the Archdiocese of Vancouver are encouraged to make a report by dialing 604-683-0281 ext. 50555 or go to www.rcav.org/reporting.
“If people are listening who have been damaged or injured by the Church, I think they have to know that there is a huge willingness to hear their voices and attempt to work with them to make the system a better system and help them in a real way,” said MacKinnon.