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Dioceses grapple with ‘credibly accused’ priests

  • November 29, 2019

OTTAWA -- A first of its kind publicly-released review of historic cases of sexual abuse within a Canadian Catholic diocese may have far-reaching repercussions across the country as other Canadian dioceses review what has been done in Vancouver.

The review, made public on Nov. 22 by an Archdiocese of Vancouver review committee on clerical sexual abuse, makes 31 recommendations and names Vancouver priests who have been criminally convicted, are named in already settled lawsuits or are the subject of other public cases. But the public report does not name “credibly accused” priests, something that survivors of abuse have been demanding and which the report also recommended.

The issue of releasing the names of “credibly accused” priests is a key point that the Catholic Church in Canada is struggling with. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), while emphasizing the steps that the Church has taken to address the scourge of sexual abuse of minors, says in a Nov. 15 statement it is up to each  diocese to determine the best way to move forward on the issue.

“It is evident that a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer cannot be given to such a complex matter when seen through the lens of privacy laws at the federal and provincial levels, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the well-being of victims-survivors, some of whom do not wish for the names of their offenders to be published for fear they themselves will be re-victimized or identified,”
the statement said.

London, Ont.-based lawyer Rob Talach, who has filed numerous legal actions involving the Church, has called the CCCB’s approach “a very sophisticated dodge.”

“The Catholic Church in Canada is organized when it comes to issues of abortion, birth control, euthanasia,” he told the CBC’s The Current radio show, but when it comes to abuse, “they’re all running around in a circle saying we’re not organized, and we have to leave it up to individuals.”

The response of other dioceses across Canada to what has been done in Vancouver is mixed, with many taking a wait-and-see approach as they review what Vancouver has done.

Neil MacCarthy, communications director of teh Toronto archdiocese, the largest in Canada, said that diocese is “open to look” at what Vancouver has done, adding he expects all dioceses across Canada will be doing the same.

He said when it comes to naming the “credibly accused” there are real privacy issues involved and there needs to be a balance between not “re-victimizing victims while at the same time the competing desire to get as much information out as possible.”

The Archdiocese of Edmonton will publish revised policies and protocols on abuse prevention and reporting next month. It is also doing an historical review of past cases. However, whether it will publish names of abusers is still being determined.

And on Nov. 25, the Archdiocese of Montreal announced it has hired a former Quebec judge to conduct a review into the case of Brian Boucher, a priest who was recently found guilty of sexually assaulting minors.

“We want to get to the bottom of things to uncover the truth regarding how the concerns and complaints about Brian Boucher were received and handled,” stated Archbishop Christian Lépine. 

As well, five Quebec dioceses announced last March that they had commissioned another retired judge to conduct an audit of their archives to assess the number and the nature of sexual abuse allegations, but the process has been delayed because that former judge has since died.

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