Archbishop Anthony Mancini of the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth. Photo by Michael Swan

Archbishop Mancini attacking abuse issue head-on

  • August 30, 2018

Even as he faces another sex abuse case in his own diocese, Archbishop Anthony Mancini is not afraid of going bankrupt.

“What are we trying to keep hidden?” Mancini asks.

“The truth is what finally sets you free, not the BS they keep mouthing and saying. If there are other people (abuse victims) there, let them come out. Is it going to bankrupt the diocese? If it does, it does. So what?”

The case the archbishop of Halifax-Yarmouth is talking about involves Jesuit Fr. George Epoch, who is accused of sexually abusing an altar boy in Halifax in the early 1960s. Epoch’s trail of abuse extends well beyond the Maritime province, though. Between 1969 and 1983 he abused boys and girls in Cape Croker and on the Saugeen reserve on Ontario’s Manitoulin Island. After his death in 1986, 22 lawsuits were launched by Cape Croker residents against the Jesuits. 

A lawyer is now trying to have the Nova Scotia Supreme Court certify the latest case as a class action, which would open up the case for other potential victims in the archdiocese. 

It is one more black eye for a Church already reeling with revelations south of the border about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s predatory history and then the Pennsylvania grand jury report on abuse and Church coverup.

Mancini has responded with a letter urging Epoch’s victims to go directly to the authorities, and assuring them the Church seeks the truth about its own sins.

“Can we take the necessary steps as an assembly of the people of God to confess our sins, to undergo the transformation which only God’s grace and concrete actions will bring about?” Mancini asks in his letter. 

In an interview with The Catholic Register, Mancini was clearly exasperated with the mess the Church finds itself in. 

“Every time we try to do anything that moves us in the direction of trying to get closer, or to return, to the Gospel there’s always a step forward and two steps back,” Mancini said. “The two steps back always seem to be, at this period in history, the sexual abuse phenomenon.”

It both grieves and angers Mancini that people think sexual abuse whenever they think about the Church.

“It certainly has defined us in the media. And it has defined us in the minds of many who are disenchanted with the Church. This provides good reasons for being even more critical and for staying away,” he said. “The Church is not this, OK! The Church is not the sum of our faults. But faults are there…. I think we’ve inadequately dealt with our faults.”

Mancini does not try to hide the toll this trail of sin is taking.

“This morning as I was saying Mass, I just broke down,” said Mancini. “I still have faith in God. I still have my own, personal experience of Jesus Christ and what that has meant to me…. Yeah, I’m aware of sinfulness of my own and I have a sense of the forgiveness of God that has happened over the years. That’s what holds me up. And a couple of friends do a pretty good job, too.”

When Pope Francis calls out clericalism, as he did in his Aug. 20 letter regarding sex abuse, Mancini shouts amen from his pew.

“What the Pope is actually asking for in his letter, if people heard it and took it seriously, is the transformation and the complete conversion of everybody. That’s the biggest action of any pope he’s asking of us, if we’re looking for action.”

Criticism that Pope Francis’ response has been too theoretical, abstract or spiritual in calling for prayer and fasting makes Mancini’s blood boil.

“Well, if you know what a prayer is and if you know what he means by fasting, it actually is a very transformative exercise. But people don’t hear it and don’t read it in those terms. What they want to hear is, ‘How can we punish these SOBs.’ ”

In the Epoch case, Canadian Jesuits responded to the abuse claims by actively looking for Epoch’s victims. Ninety-seven eventually came forward. The Jesuits set up a mediation system to spare victims the delays and expense of the courts. They issued individual apologies to the victims and a public apology to the entire community. After spending $4.5 million on two different compensation schemes through the 1990s, the Jesuits continue to minister among the Anishinabe of Manitoulin Island, but carry with them a legacy of distrust and broken hearts.

“Face the music, take responsibility, care for the people. Certainly for us as Jesuits that has been our choice,” said Fr. Gilles Mongeau, the right-hand man or socius to Canadian Jesuit provincial superior Fr. Eric Oland.

“My own experience is that we have learned how to respond with compassion,” he said.

Mancini is convinced that part of the solution that will get the Church back on track is encouraging lay people in every parish to take responsibility and plan for their church’s future.

“Everything stands and falls on leadership,” Mancini said.

Under a plan that was built in meetings with parishes from 2015 through 2016, the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth wanted to abandon the corporation sole structure, under which the archbishop holds all the real estate and all other assets and employs everyone in every parish. In a restructured archdiocese, each parish would have become its own foundation with its own board, much like the fabriques that run parishes in Quebec.

This change required an act of the Nova Scotia legislature, which had granted Halifax Catholics their original incorporation in 1844. But last year Halifax lawyer John McKiggan convinced legislators that the re-organization was an elaborate scheme to shield assets from future sex abuse settlements.

The archdiocese subsequently withdrew its request, although Mancini disputes McKiggan’s claim.

“It was an attempt to put into practice, in a literal and concrete way, the principle of co-responsibility that Pope Benedict and others have spoken about,” he said.

Letting parishes own their own church and have their own bank accounts wouldn’t protect any asset when it comes to lawsuits, he said.

“It makes it obviously more attractive or easier to do if all the money is in one bank account. So yes, if the money is divided into various corporations it might not be so easy to pursue the money. But instead of suing one corporation, you sue 10,” he said.

The Church has a lot of work ahead if it hopes to regain trust, said Atlantic School of Theology professor David Deane.

“We cannot expect to be trusted,” he said. “We, the Catholic Church, have proved ourselves unworthy of trust.”

Mancini’s own analysis is perhaps even harsher.

“The Church stopped being the Church when it turned itself into a political institution. That’s what we’ve become,” he said. “Of course, anybody who engages in politics these days is constantly not telling the truth. We find ourselves being labelled in the same fashion.”

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