Canada’s bishops will soon release a new document on sexual-abuse prevention. Some dioceses have their own guidelines in place, like Montreal where a priest hearing a child’s confession has to be in a place visible to another adult. CNS photo/Bob Roller

Canadian bishops to issue new sexual-abuse prevention document

  • June 30, 2017

OTTAWA – Twenty-five years after becoming pioneers in establishing protocols for the protection of minors, Canada’s bishops are poised to issue an updated document on sexual-abuse prevention.

The new document by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops was approved in principle at the bishops’ plenary last September and is slated for publication later this year, said CCCB communications director Rene Laprise. The document is in the final stages of translation into French and English and proofreading of both texts, he said.

The new document — with a working title of Moving Towards Healing and Renewal: the Canadian Experience — will update and replace the 1992 document From Pain to Hope.

The CCCB initiative comes amid reports of a pilot program in the Montreal archdiocese that requires digital fingerprints and background checks for priests and pastoral staff who work with children, minors and vulnerable adults. That program will be expanded from 10 churches to all of the archdiocese’s 194 parishes by 2020.

Even those who pass the checks are not allowed to be alone with children. For example, a priest hearing a child’s confession will be in a place where they are visible to another adult.

The CCCB was a pioneer in responding to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, but since issuing From Pain to Hope much has changed, Laprise said.

“In 1992, we didn’t have guidelines on the Vatican website which now we have,” he said.

From Pain to Hope has undergone some revision and updating over the years, but this new document will replace it, Laprise said.

The document “is a guide,” he stressed, which means bishops are not obligated “to apply everything in it.”

Many dioceses already have their own guidelines, Laprise said.

“The new guide by the CCCB will not be like throwing away everything they have already. They could take it as a base to improve their own guidelines, or to have a few checks.

“The CCCB will not comment on what a particular diocese is doing, or make comparisons among dioceses,” Laprise said. “Each bishop in his own diocese, with their resources and their reality, will put in place their own policies, if not already done, or improve them if necessary.”

The Toronto archdiocese has posted comprehensive guidelines regarding behaviour for its staff and volunteers. It includes a section on the use of social media and, like some other dioceses, requires a police background check for volunteers who work with youth.

“Physical contact shall be appropriate to the situation and age of the participant and only permissible if: i) it does not cause disproportionate or unnecessary stress or anxiety to the participant; and ii) it is entirely and unambiguously non-sexual,” the guidelines state.

Vancouver’s extensive guidelines give examples of appropriate touching — shaking hands, holding hands in a prayer or song, short hugs, high fives — as well as examples of inappropriate touch — kissing, lengthy or forceful hugs, cuddling, tickling, piggy-back rides, etc.

Edmonton’s “Called to Protect” program focuses on screening volunteers and staff, training them on acceptable interactions between adults and children and recognizing when “a child may be at risk for abuse or is already being abused.”

The Ottawa archdiocese also has an extensive Code of Pastoral Conduct. Among its requirements, clergy, staff and volunteers must provide a professional work environment that is free from physical, sexual, psychological, written or verbal intimidation or harassment, the code says.

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