By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News
OTTAWA – A first of its kind publicly-released review of historic cases of sexual abuse within a Canadian Catholic diocese may have far reaching repercussions across the country as other Canadian dioceses review what has been done in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.
The review by an Archdiocese of Vancouver review committee on clerical sexual abuse was made public on Nov. 22 by the archdiocese. The committee report makes 31 recommendations and names Vancouver priests who have been criminally convicted, are named in already settled lawsuits or are the subject of other public cases. But the public report does not name “credibly accused” priests, something that some survivors of abuse have been demanding and which the report also recommended.
Archdiocese releases report on Vancouver sexual abuse cases – ARTICLE
Diocese of Saskatoon update on safeguarding / dealing with abuse allegations – ARTICLE
Read the Vancouver report – recommendations and response – REPORT
Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller, who ordered the review, said in a letter included with the report “no expression of regret can repair the horror of what happened.”
The issue of releasing the names of “credibly accused” priests is a key point that the Catholic Church in Canada is struggling with. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), while emphasizing the steps that the Church has taken in recent years to address the scourge of sexual abuse of minors in Canada says it is up to each individual diocese to determine the best way to forward on the issue.
“Bishops recognize that while the current procedure offers very clear guidelines on their pastoral and civil responsibilities, there remains an important question to consider related to the publication of names of the ‘credibly accused’ who have not been charged and convicted,” a CCCB statement dated Nov. 15 said. “It is evident that a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer cannot be given to such a complex matter when seen through the lens of privacy laws at the federal and provincial levels, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the well-being of victims-survivors, some of whom do not wish for the names of their offenders to be published for fear they themselves will be re-victimized or identified.”
“Bishops are obliged to weigh all of these factors as they discern their individual responses to this question,” the CCCB statement said.
The response of other dioceses across Canada to what has been done in Vancouver is mixed, with many taking a wait and see approach as they want to have time to review what Vancouver has done in relation to the individual circumstances within their own diocese.
Neil MacCarthy, communications director of Toronto’s Archdiocese, the largest in Canada, said that diocese is “open to look” at what Vancouver has done, adding that he expects all dioceses across Canada will be doing the same. He said when it comes to naming the “credibly accused” there are real privacy issues involved and there needs to be a balance between not “re-victimizing victims while at the same time the competing desire to get as much information out as possible.”
While the impact of the Vancouver report will have across the country is still unfolding, some other dioceses have been quick to make public their own actions.
The Archdiocese of Edmonton will publish revised policies and protocols on abuse prevention and reporting next month after a pledge made by Archbishop Richard Smith in 2018 after the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released its new guidelines on Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse. It is also doing an historical review of past cases. However, whether it will publish names of abusers is still being determined.
The Edmonton Archdiocese said several victims and families who it consulted advised against publishing names of priests who have been accused, but not convicted, of a crime.
“Without exception, they have advised us that publication of names of these offenders and details of the offences would serve only to re-traumatize them,” the Archdiocese said in a statement. “Many had decided not to report their complaints to police and/or explicitly requested that there be no publicity of their complaints.”
And on Nov. 25, the Archdiocese of Montreal announced it has hired a former Quebec judge to conduct an independent review into the case of Brian Boucher, a priest who was recently found guilty of sexually assaulting minors.
“We want to get to the bottom of things to uncover the truth regarding how the concerns and complaints about Brian Boucher were received and handled,” stated Archbishop Christian Lépine, adding that the investigation was twofold, “first, determining ‘who’ knew ‘what’ and ‘when’, and then making recommendations to ensure that our policies and procedures improve, thereby avoiding that such crimes would occur again.”
The Montreal Archdiocese has promised to make the results public once the investigation is complete.
As well, five Quebec dioceses announced last March that they had commissioned another retired judge to conduct an audit of their archives to assess the number and the nature of sexual abuse allegations made against Catholic clergy but that former judge has since died and has delayed that process.
-With files from the Canadian Catholic News