Sr. Nuala Kenny. Michael Swan

Archdiocese put Church before victims

By 
  • November 25, 2020

Secrets, lies and threatened lawsuits protected Brian Boucher through two decades of priestly life before Montreal Church authorities finally investigated the former pastor’s bizarre, aggressive and abusive behaviour.

A 276-page report by Judge Pepita Capriolo released Nov. 25 outlines how Boucher continued to advance through seminary to ordination to pastoral roles despite a pattern of complaints by parents, parishioners and priests. 

Ordained in 1996, the first serious Church investigation into the behaviour of the abusive priest began in December of 2015. The first recorded allegations of sexual abuse of minors came to light in 2016. By 2019 he was removed from the priesthood and is now serving an eight-year sentence for sexually abusing two boys.

At the end of a tale that includes lost documents, a break-in at the Archdiocese of Montreal’s secret archives and an attempt to deal with Boucher’s behaviour not by investigating it but by sending him for assessment and psychotherapy, Capriolo concludes the archdiocese was so concerned about protecting its image and reputation it failed to see the victims.

Relying on the writing of physician and abuse expert Sr. Nuala Kenny, Capriolo concludes that “clericalism still imbues the position of priests” and that it led directly to Boucher’s abuse and the unwillingness of Church authorities to deal with it.

“Many people had complained about Boucher’s unacceptable behaviour over the years: he was rude, authoritarian, overly intense, intransigent, homophobic, racist, misogynist and verbally, and sometimes even physically, aggressive. These reports were repeatedly reported to his superiors,” Capriolo writes.

“How in the name of all that’s good and holy did he get ordained?” Kenny asked, after reading Capriolo’s report. “When you look at the repeated assessments — problems with communication, problems sharing his feelings, of being a loner, of having mood swings — in what way is that an individual that should be allowed to serve in a pastoral capacity to help others who are dealing with life issues and faith issues?”

Kenny is the author of Healing the Church and Still Unhealed, two books diagnosing the Church’s problem with abuse. She helped lead the investigation into the Mount Cashel Orphanage crimes in 1990, consulted on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ first report and guidelines for dealing with abuse in 1992, From Pain to Hope, and again consulted with the bishops on abuse from 2014 to 2018.

She concludes that faced with a near collapse in vocations showing up at seminary doors, bishops found it easier to ignore Boucher’s shortcomings.

“They’re so desperate that no criteria of any kind needed to be applied,” Kenny said. “It’s not as if this guy was a great orator or he was a brilliant potential academic. He was lousy on those counts as well…. He doesn’t seem to have any of the qualities that one would want in a man of God in a parish.”

There were complaints about Boucher’s “untoward interest in young boys” even before Boucher entered the seminary, when he was volunteering as a catechist in the 1980s, Capriolo found. Complaints surfaced again while he studied for the priesthood at Montreal’s Grande Seminaire. He had “a very close and worrisome relationship with a young boy at the end of the 1990s,” after his ordination, Capriolo writes.

“A later, heartbreaking abusive relationship with a 19-year-old student under Boucher’s tutelage when he was chaplain of the Newman Centre became the tipping point… to send Boucher for psychological treatment!” Capriolo writes, stunned that the archdiocese’s care and concern was directed entirely toward Boucher and not his young victim.

It was easier for the Church to ignore complaints, writes Capriolo.

Kenny calls Capriolo’s analysis “bang on,” and a call to serious conversion in the Church.

“In the name of the Catholic Church of Montreal and speaking for myself, I wish to say how sorry we are that you have had to experience the effects of such terrible acts which should have never occurred,” Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine told a news conference for the release of the report.

Though the Church now has “more policies and protocols for safeguarding than almost any other institution,” Kenny hopes for a change of heart that would break down the special, separate and protected status of priests and bishops. The Church must also confess how clerical power has corrupted it.

Last modified on December 2, 2020

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