Leona Huggins told her story of abuse to a symposium at the University of St. Michael’s College on the University of Toronto campus. Photo by Michael Swan

Abuse victim looks for a Church that ‘tries to shed the wall’

By 
  • March 20, 2019

Leona Huggins keeps telling her story — even though it’s unpleasant and she’s tired of talking about it. 

She and two other victims kicked off a day of discussion at St. Michael’s College about the Church’s sad history of sexual abuse and coverups by telling their personal stories. 

“I don’t want to keep telling my story, but…” she said.

Her message to an audience of theologians began with a message of peace from the victim community.

“We are not your enemies,” she said. “We all have a great devotion. We just can’t practice it in a Church that isn’t willing to stand with us.”

Huggins spoke at the February abuse summit in the Vatican before the Pope, cardinals and presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences. She recounted a Catholic childhood stolen by Oblate Fr. Jack McCann, and the price she paid as an adult for trying to tell her Church what its priest had done.

The first time she went public, she lost her job as a 27-year-old Catholic teacher in Vancouver. She was accused of attacking the Church and called angry. She was pressured to settle her case and signed a non-disclosure agreement. 

McCann eventually served 10 months in prison in 1992. But the charming, guitar-playing, worldly-wise McCann kept turning up in Catholic parishes and schools. It ended in 2011 when the media revealed that McCann, then serving at a parish in Ottawa’s east end, was a convicted pedophile and that the archdiocese had withheld the information even from McCann’s pastor.

As a little girl, Huggins loved Church. She learned to read by following the Mass in her mother’s St. Joseph Missal. She loved dressing up in shiny shoes and dresses. She loved the music — a love that survived her experience with McCann and led to a Bachelor of Music degree.

Though it has not always been easy, she’s never left the Church. She’s a member of the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s case review committee — a group of victims, canon lawyers and others formed last year by Archbishop Michael Miller after the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report came out. Miller asked them to examine Vancouver’s history of clerical sex abuse and produce a report later this year. 

Huggins is also a member of SNAP, the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests.

“We’re not going to have a perfect, purified Church,” Huggins told The Catholic Register. “But maybe we can have a Church that tries to be real, tries to shed the wall it has created to protect itself.”

When McCann arrived at Huggins’ Vancouver parish in 1974, his history of abuse was already known to bishops and Oblate superiors, according to Huggins. But the Church kept his “proclivities” sealed in secret files.

“He had already preyed. He already had victims before he came to our Church,” she said. “My 12-year-old self had no chance.”

She doesn’t blame parishioners.

“Predators groom communities,” she said. “Is my mother culpable for allowing me to spend time with Jack McCann? No.”

But lay Catholics today have a duty “to understand the problem,” she said. Understanding has to lead to action.

“It has to change,” Huggins said. “It absolutely has to change. We can’t continue to accept … that it’s just sin and goodness and we’re trying to find the balance between.”


Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you. 

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you. 


Comment

ProLifeWashington

Herman Goodden: No signs of defeat on path of resistance 

Though my legs and lower vertebrae sympathetically throbbed at the prospect of spending another 16 out of 24 sleep-deprived hours...

Faith

Pope's homily

Features

Education

CEW 2019

Catholic Education Week

The Catholic Register celebrates the contributions of Catholic Education.