By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
Recent training sessions held in Humboldt and Saskatoon provided updates to parish representatives about diocesan “Covenant of Care” policies to safeguard against sexual abuse in the church, as well as information about the process and protocols for receiving and responding to allegations.
An ongoing commitment to being more victim-focused in responding to abuse was evident in the training’s focus on understanding the nature and effects of sexual abuse and the experience of victims.
The diocesan training sessions were led by Lorie Harrison, a registered professional counsellor with Legacy Ridge Trauma Recovery and Resource Centre, and by Theresa Campbell, who serves as the Diocesan Coordinator of Care, overseeing implementation of diocesan safeguarding and misconduct policies. Campbell is also the Director of Operations at the Catholic Pastoral Centre in Saskatoon.
At both St. Augustine Parish in Humboldt Nov. 25 and at Holy Family Cathedral in Saskatoon Dec. 3, Lorie Harrison provided an overview of the impact of trauma such as sexual abuse.
Harrison noted the willingness of the church to look seriously at the issues, hurt and harms that have happened in lives impacted by abuse, and she thanked participants – including pastors, parish staff, and volunteers — for their courage in showing up to learn more about “a subject that is hard to imagine, and even harder to live.”
Sexual abuse is an abuse of power, she said. And sexual abuse by those in a position of trust – those who are supposed to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable – is a profound betrayal that takes its toll on victims physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Harrison called for a “trauma-informed perspective” of care and compassion that recognizes the prevalence of abuse – and an understanding that often “more is happening under the surface” of behaviours and symptoms. Depression, nightmares, self-harm, phobias, sexual problems, eating disorders, anxiety or compulsive behaviours are among manifestations that might emerge because of an underlying trauma such as sexual abuse, which leaves survivors with an inability to trust, feelings of self-blame and shame, and shattered self-esteem, she described.
The subject of trauma and sexual abuse is not easy to hear about or deal with, Harrison acknowledged, urging her listeners to consider how they might respond to someone revealing trauma or abuse, calling for an attitude of acceptance, care and compassion. The natural human inclination might be to withdraw in horror, especially if the abuse challenges our belief system, she said, but there is a profound need not to recoil or reject the information and the person, but rather to “draw towards someone who is hurting.”
Those who have experienced trauma require a response that includes acknowledgment, a place of safety, of trust and compassion, she described. She called for receiving those who reveal abuse with a spirit of loving kindness that conveys: “I believe you, I am here, and I can see you are hurting.”
“I would ask you to be a neighbour, as if it were your mom, your best friend, your children – those you hold most precious,” Harrison said.
Collaboration, choice and empowerment – and a lot of “heart work” are ultimately needed on a healing journey that is rarely simple or straightforward for victims of abuse, she described.
“As organizations and communities, we are called to find ways to support, and be observant, and make sure our community is safe,” she said. She pointed to the need for prevention through policies such as the diocesan Covenant of Care, a requirement to have police record checks, and rules about not being alone with a child or vulnerable person: “These things are in place to protect everyone.”
Diocesan Coordinator of Care Theresa Campbell provided an overview of the diocesan policies, and recent updates and changes, with a particular focus on the role of “Parish Coordinator of Care” or PCC.
Under the diocesan safeguarding policies, each parish is required to have a PCC: “who works closely with the ordained and lay leadership of the parish to ensure the diocese of Saskatoon’s Covenant of Care, Allegations of Serious Misconduct Protocol and Code of Conduct are implemented thoroughly in the parish community. The PCC also acts as a local contact for parishioners who have issues, questions about the policy or protocol.”
Parish Coordinators of Care have a role in implementing and raising awareness about the diocesan Covenant of Care, Allegations of Serious Misconduct Protocol and Code of Conduct. PCC contact information is publicized in the parish, and the PCC is asked to be a local source of information about the policies, and to serve as a contact person for anyone coming forward with an allegation of abuse.
Campbell provided an overview of steps a PCC would take to respond to an allegation, including determining and acting upon a duty to report to police of ministry of social services if a person under 18 is involved, as well as connecting the person who has come forward with diocesan “Intake Officers” who receive the allegations: Link to Intake Officer contact information (to report abuse)
Question and answer sessions followed the training presentations in both Humboldt and Saskatoon.
In a comment at the conclusion of the Saskatoon event, Fr. Mick Fleming, CSsR, pastor at St. Mary Parish in Saskatoon, stressed the importance of vigilant, well-implemented safeguarding policies, and the need to fully protect the most vulnerable, describing it as a covenant of love. “Let us focus on care and on providing healthy, wholesome ministry in freedom and peace,” Fleming urged.
Bishop Mark Hagemoen also spoke briefly at the Saskatoon training session Dec. 3, describing recent media coverage around the question of naming clergy and lay employees in the church who have been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse – which some survivors of sexual abuse have been calling for – and noting the recent release of a ground-breaking report by an historic case review committee in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. An external “historic case review committee” separate from the bishop’s office is being established in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon to review historical files, with a report anticipated in the late spring of 2020.
Hagemoen continues to call for the diocese of Saskatoon and its parishes to “hold the bar high” and actively engage in outreach and healing for victims, focus on improving policies and ongoing training, and expand the safeguarding culture.
“We continue to grow and learn about the priority of being victim- and survivor-focussed,” said Hagemoen.
The bishop also recently produced a video message updating the diocese about Covenant of Care safeguarding policies and protocols in which he said: “We need to listen to and support victims and survivors. This is the perspective from which all our efforts begin.”
Covenant of Care safeguarding committee chair Brenda Fitzgerald and Diocesan Coordinator of Care Theresa Campbell also provide video updates. The videos can be found on the diocesan website at: rcdos.ca/video-updates
In his video message to the diocese, Hagemoen again reiterated: “I, as bishop, invite victims to come forward,” echoing earlier statements asking those who have experienced abuse by persons in the Church to report the abuse.
“I commit as bishop to bring to bear the support of our church and diocese to respond to victims and survivors of serious misconduct and sexual abuse by persons in the church.”