By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon July 21, 2021 released a report about an Historical Case Review Process that examined past cases of serious misconduct and sexual abuse in the diocese. In conjunction with those results, the diocese also announced updates to its Safeguarding Action Plan.
The report has been posted at rcdos.ca/safer-church/update and shared with parishes across the diocese.
The historical report does not address residential schools, since the diocese of Saskatoon did not operate any residential schools and there were no Indian Residential Schools located within diocesan boundaries.
A Safeguarding Advisory Committee established three years ago by Bishop Mark Hagemoen recommended a review of diocesan records as part of the release of a Safer Church, Safer Communities Safeguarding Action Plan in March 2020.
“The key goal of our plan was that our diocese and our churches be places of profound respect and safety for all peoples – especially the young and vulnerable,” said Bishop Hagemoen in a letter to the diocese July 21.
With that goal in mind, the Historical Case Review Process was primarily launched to determine what could be learned from past handling of cases to improve diocesan policies here and now, the bishop said. “We wished to determine how our current policies and practices can be improved, particularly in our commitment to support those who come forward with allegations of abuse or serious misconduct,” he said.
“This work is extremely important and valued. Although we have come a long way in our efforts, there is much more to do,” Hagemoen acknowledged.
The Historical Case Review Process involved two committees:
- an Historical Case Review Committee chaired by Bob Loran that included a number of lay (non-clergy) professionals with a range of backgrounds and expertise – including legal, professional and police investigative experience – reviewing diocesan records independently of the bishop’s office, and
- a Policy and Operations Review Committee chaired by Brenda FitzGerald, which did a complete review of diocesan policies and the Safeguarding Action Plan in light of the findings of the Historical Case Review Committee. This Policy and Operations Review Committee also met with victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse, listening to their experience and reflecting on the terrible and long-lasting effects and what is needed to best support victims/survivors.
“We have wrestled extensively with striking an appropriate balance between accountability and transparency, and sensitivity and responsibility, as every member of the Policy and Operations Committee deeply desires that the evil of sexual abuse be eradicated,” says Brenda Fitzgerald, chair of the Policy and Operations Committee, as well as of the diocesan Safeguarding Committee.
“In meeting with victims of sexual abuse, the Policy and Operations Review Committee repeatedly found that we must always remain victim/survivor-focused for the sake of respecting that person and their individual journey. This victim-centred approach must be reflected in every update to our safeguarding plan – and of any operation of the diocese,” she said.
At the recommendation of the committeees involved in the Historical Review Process, a commitment to publicly identifying the names of clergy and church employees who have been found guilty of sexual abuse or other serious misconduct has been clarified as being subject to privacy laws “and/or publication bans or privacy agreements.” The commitment was further broadened to include: “We commit to careful consultation with victims or representatives of victims prior to the public identification of names.”
The historical review report lists nine cases involving serious misconduct by either clergy or lay employees working in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, however no new names of abusers were released.
In three previously-reported cases, the names of offenders are again reported. In three cases, a credible claim could not be clearly established by the review committee and therefore names are not released. In two cases, victims have requested that names of the offenders not be published, and the diocese has honoured their wishes. The ninth case involved a Code of Conduct violation by an employee allegedly accessing pornography on a computer at a local parish – the name of the employee, now deceased, is not being released.
Two non-historical cases still under review were also noted in the Historical Case Review report, with previously-released names again published.
“In recent months we have learned that there are situations where releasing names of an abuser would further re-traumatize and trigger victims – each of whom are on their own unique healing journey,” explained FitzGerald.
“For some, releasing names of perpetrators of sexual abuse has tremendous potential to empower victims to seek healing and reparation. For others, there is a great fear and risk of further trauma with the release of names. As with our commitment that our entire Safeguarding Action Plan be more victim or survivor focused, we came to realize that with regard to this question of releasing names of abusers, we must also prioritize the needs and desires of the victim or survivor,” she said.
“Therefore, we have added this important clause to the commitment addressing the release of names of abusers: ‘We commit to careful consultation with victims or representatives of victims prior to the public identification of names.’ (Safer Church, Stronger Communities Safeguarding Action Plan, Commitment #12)”
Safeguarding plan updates
As a result of the work of the two committees, the diocesan Safeguarding Action Plan released in March 2020 has also been updated in several sections. The plan features 20 commitments that fall into four categories:
- Outreach and Healing;
- Process of Reporting and Addressing Allegations;
- Policies and Training; and
- Expanding Safeguarding Culture.
In addition to the changes to Commitment 12 about publicly identifying names, other changes to the Safeguarding Action Plan as a result of the Historical Case Review Process include:
- committing to respond to allegations within 48 hours;
- exploring the establishment of a 24-hour hotline for those who wish to remain anonymous when reporting serious misconduct or abuse;
- undertaking a review of existing intake and investigation processes to be more complainant-focused, simplified and accessible;
- including allegations against church volunteers in record-keeping; and
- making trauma support and accompaniment resources available on the website as they become available.
Bishop Hagemoen expressed his appreciation to the committees who undertook the review of historic files and the Safeguarding Action Plan. “I am grateful to those who led this process – professionals who are Catholic and non-Catholic, and who did their work independent of myself and our diocesan offices,” he said.
Bishop Hagemoen also apologized to victims / survivors of sexual abuse and to the wider Church community.
“To any person in our diocese or beyond who has experienced abuse by clergy or anyone else in the Church, I again express my profound sorrow and I apologize for what you have suffered, and for the betrayal, violation, and abandonment you have experienced,” Hagemoen said.
“I also apologize to all members of our Church whose faith and trust has been damaged because of the sinful actions of those who abused the innocent, and those who covered up such abuse. I recognize that both individual and institutional change must happen in our Church to move forward.”
VIDEO: Bishop Mark Hagemoen, Historical Review Committee Chair Bob Loran, Policy and Operations Review Committee Chair Brenda Fitzgerald: