The more than 80 Catholic bishops and eparchs in Canada pledged at their recent annual gathering in Cornwall, Ont. to implement the new CCCB guidelines on preventing sexual abuse. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Editorial: Bishops get it right

  • October 10, 2018

Good riddance to confidentiality clauses. If one outcome captures the spirit of the Canadian bishops’ new document on sex abuse, that might be it. No more confidentially clauses.

 For decades these were standard whenever the Church paid settlements in cases of clerical sex abuse.  Victims received millions of dollars in payments and, in exchange, became legally bound to keep the Church’s dirty secret — that priests were abusing minors and, even when exposed, being moved to other parishes where many of them abused again and again.

Those clauses, the antithesis of the transparency and accountability now demanded from the Church, were crippling for victims who sought to ease their pain by speaking openly of their ordeal. But, even worse, confidentiality clauses hid the identity of abuser priests and made them feel bulletproof, protected by the Church and free to prey on other victims. 

As of Sept. 27, when Canada’s bishops unanimously endorsed a commendable 184-page document that outlines new protocols to combat clerical sex abuse, that practice ended. In many dioceses, it ceased long ago. But now, officially, it is a national standard. No longer will these gag stipulations be forced on victims and any speak-no-evil clauses already in place will be waived.

That is just one reason to commend the bishops for producing a first-rate document that every one of them has agreed to implement as a cornerstone in building safe environments for minors and vulnerable adults. Their dioceses operate autonomously, but Canada’s bishops, at long last, now speak with one voice when it comes to abuse. 

And what they have proclaimed, among many things in endorsing 69 recommendations, is that the days of secrecy are over. This is a thorough document that confronts with honesty the shame of clerical abuse and the disgraceful way abuse victims typically were treated before a more pastoral  approach developed in recent years. There was nothing virtuous in the calculating and furtive way the Church, historically, responded to the abuse of minors by priests. Now Canada’s bishops have pledged that “victims must come first.” 

That means from the outset of an allegation bishops will offer pastoral care, not legal intimidation; compassion, not judgment; remorse, not skepticism; transparency, not secrecy; accountability, not evasion. Police will be called when warranted, guilty priests laicized and the public kept informed to the extent permitted by law and the privacy rights of victims. 

“If we had listened to them and their cries for justice, many tragic failures of the past could have been avoided,” wrote London Bishop Ronald Fabbro, introducing the document.

Justice was mocked for decades by the Church’s unwritten policies that hid the truth, protected abusers and silenced victims. This new document intends to end that. So good riddance to confidentiality clauses and the scandals of secrecy and abuse they emboldened.

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