CCCB president bishop Lionel Gendron presents a new sexual abuse document in an introduction YouTube video. Photo screenshot via CCCBadmin, YouTube

Positive reviews for Canadian bishops’ sex abuse document, but hard work is ahead

By  DEBORAH GYAPONG, CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
  • October 9, 2018
OTTAWA - The Canadian Catholic bishops’ new sexual abuse document released Oct. 4 sets the right tone, say observers, but now the hard work of implementation begins.


“It’s been a long labour of love,” said Bishop Ronald Fabbro of London, who wrote the foreword to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) new document entitled "Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse: a Call to the Catholic Faithful in Canada for Healing, Reconciliation, and Transformation."

“For me personally, the lessons that we’ve learned over the last 25 years, I think are captured well in this document and give us an excellent way of going forward,” he said in an interview.

“The need for healing and reconciliation, for repentance and conversion and for deep ecclesial renewal remain a challenge,” said Sr. Nuala Kenny, a retired pediatrician and professor who was on the committee that drafted From Pain to Hope in 1992, the CCCB’s first response to the emerging clerical sexual abuse crisis. “Now the real work has to begin.”

She praised the new document for starting with the lessons the bishops have learned over the past decades. “The tone of this document is so different from what I’m seeing from other episcopal groups.”

The document is “very sensitive to the issue” and reflects “a deep personal understanding of the harm” of sexual abuse, she said.

The second section of the 184-page document concerns the protocols and policies, from a legal and canon law standpoint. “These are masterfully done,” she said, but stressed her concerns are “attitudinal” and involve the need for “conversion of mind and heart.”

“Policies, protocols and procedures are important, but I know we have had them and they are ignored,” she said.

Kenny called for “deep ecclesial renewal,” combating “silence and secrecy,” “dismantling patriarchy” and a “whole new way of dialogue in the Church” that includes true lay participation.

“I don’t want to democratize the Church,” she said. “But we have to acknowledge you cannot police yourself, especially when you have power and authority. The reason it’s taken Church so long is because it’s embedded in the culture.

“We need change but discernment of change through the mind of Christ or we’re going to repeat the problems of the past. Knowing these fellows as I do, I think they’ve been moved to a new place, but the next stages, as they say themselves, it’s going to be difficult.”

Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith welcomed the new guidelines as an indication of the commitment of all bishops across Canada to be transparent, accountable and to help victims heal.

“We also have to have our eyes wide open to the causes of all this. This will mean a readiness to ask direct and tough questions; it will mean launching investigations where needed, and these inquiries will need to involve laypersons with the appropriate expertise,” Smith said.

Robert Talach, a London-based litigation lawyer who has represented clerical sexual abuse victims across the country over the past 15 years, injected a note of caution about the document.

“They’re getting better,” he said of the bishops. “But I don’t think they’re capable of getting it. I don’t say this with malicious intent. It’s such a tight culture and subset of society. I don’t think they are equipped to get it.”

Recent revelations that American ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abused seminarians for decades, and now faces allegations of sexual abuse of minors, have raised questions whether the CCCB’s new document will also hold bishops accountable if they cover up or engage in sexual misconduct.

“Increased lay involvement is key to promoting the accountability of bishops,” said Bishop Christian Riesbeck, Auxiliary Bishop of Ottawa. “For example, the new CCCB document encourages the presence of an advisory committee of qualified laypersons and professionals tasked principally with advising the bishop in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse, so nobody has any chance of covering up.”

“If there was an allegation of criminal wrongdoing against a bishop, the same reporting mechanism would apply,” said Riesbeck, noting that any case of sexual misconduct involving a minor is automatically reported to the police as well. “The CCCB will do everything it can to ensure a swift and proper response from the Holy See if and when a bishop is accused.”

However, Talach pointed out the CCCB has no jurisdiction over individual bishops.

“I’m a guy that’s seen a Church that’s broken its own rules for the past 15 years,” said Talach. “(The bishops) are kings in their own castle.”
He added that sanctions against bishops who break the rules have to be much more severe.

“The Church knows more than anybody the bishops who are not toeing the line,” Talach said. “There’s got to be some Canadian-level policing within our own Church.

“Either ask for tools from Vatican to do this or be a little tougher on each other at the CCCB,” he said.

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