Terrence Prendergast in 2007. File Photo

Ottawa archbishop shaken by ‘enormity of evil’ in sex cases

  • May 25, 2016

OTTAWA – In response to news stories that chronicled several past cases of sexual abuse in the Ottawa archdiocese, archbishop Terrence Prendergast has acknowledged “the enormity of the evil” and pledged greater vigilance in the future.

“This shocking moment can become a moment of purification for us in the Catholic community and serve to remind us to keep vigilant in protecting the vulnerable, especially children,” Prendergast said in a statement. “We will continue to commit to making sure that our protocols for safety and security are being followed and are effective.”

Prendergast was responding to a series of front-page articles published in Ottawa’s two daily newspapers that recounted historical cases of abuse dating back to the 1950s. Using court records and online research, the Postmedia newspapers documented cases involving 11 abuser priests and 41 victims. With one exception, the cases pre-dated Prendergast’s arrival as Ottawa archbishop in 2007.

The articles said the archdiocese has paid nearly $600,000 in settlements to abuse victims in seven lawsuits since 2011. Five more lawsuits remain, with claimants seeking a total of $7.4 million.

The archbishop said it was sobering to see the shocking news stories all in one place, but it also provided Prendergast with an opportunity to “reassure people” new procedures are in place to “create safe environments for all.”

He pointed to the Sept. 2015 Code of Pastoral Conduct that details strict procedures and requirements for all priests and others in pastoral ministry to maintain proper boundaries with children and vulnerable persons. The archbishop noted everyone in ministry, whether priest or volunteer, must commit to signing the code.

The code sets strict guidelines on a broad range of matters, including rules governing visitors to rectories, boundaries for counselling and acceptable types of physical contact. It restricts priests from giving or receiving gifts, giving financial advice, signing wills or accepting bequests from any vulnerable persons. The code also forbids the use of alcohol, tobacco or any other drugs in the presence of children and youths, and forbids physical discipline or abusive language.

“We will continue to commit to making sure that our protocols for safety and security are being followed and are effective,” he said.

The articles have been difficult for Ottawa’s priests, the archbishop said.

“In reality, the priests’ reactions are mixed, like those of the faithful laity: some feeling great sadness, others shame, many a wounded sense of déjà vu.”

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