Norbert LeBlanc

Yarmouth’s Church suffers with town

  • June 17, 2011

YARMOUTH, N.S. - On Norbert LeBlanc’s street there are three houses for sale. They’ve been for sale long enough for the realtor’s signs to start fading and growing rust. House prices in Yarmouth dropped 11.9 per cent between the first quarter of 2010 and 2011, said the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors.

Southern Nova Scotia’s unemployment rate was 12.7 per cent in April, down from 15.9 per cent a year earlier, according to Statistics Canada.

What’s left of the diocese of Yarmouth — a diocese that hasn’t had a bishop since Bishop James Wingle was appointed to St. Catharines in 2001 — now has to raise money to pay for sex abuse settlements past and future by selling real estate.

But it’s not as grim a prospect as you might think, LeBlanc told The Catholic Register.

“It’s going to force the laity to have a greater commitment, a greater involvement, a greater faith,” he said.

As a member of the administration committee for the cathedral parish of St. Ambrose in Yarmouth, the retired teacher and school administrator knows his church is going to end up poorer. The sprawling pile of the former bishop’s residence next door to the cathedral has been assessed at $400,000, but LeBlanc is certain the diocese would be lucky to get an offer of $100,000.

Still, LeBlanc finds all kinds of reasons for hope.

“I see the Church as bigger than a couple of priests I would rather not have come across,” he said. “We have young clergy with a lot of zest, a lot of energy.”

All that remains is for parishioners to match that zest, energy and commitment.

“People have stopped me and told me they are not giving money to the Church. They put their money in a trust,” said LeBlanc.

The idea is that those families will release the trusts to the church after all the abuse settlements are concluded. They want their money to go to their parish, not to lawyers or in compensation for the criminality of abuser priests and the incompetence of diocesan administrators who should have known what was happening.

LeBlanc doesn’t know when Yarmouth or Nova Scotia will see the end of the era of lawsuits. “Will they ever entirely be settled?” he asks. And he he can’t begrudge even one penny that goes to victims who had the courage to stand up and tell their story.

The challenge of rebuilding after the sex abuse wreckage is actually an opportunity, said LeBlanc.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” he said. “They’re going to have to realize that the church of Christ is their church, it’s not the church of Rome.”

It’s not that LeBlanc wishes to cut himself off from the Pope or the universal Church. He sees the present challenge as a matter of concentrating on the concrete, immediate reality of parishes and communities. That includes figuring out which parishes will have to close.

“It’s not only the aftermath of sex abuse. There’s the diminishing attendance at Mass, the fewer priests. They’re stretched to the limit,” he said.

Though everybody knows parishes have to close, “everybody is afraid. Is their parish going to be next?”

Merging parishes will not be done overnight, said Yarmouth chancellor Sr. Marie-Paule Couturier. She believes the parishes will decide themselves when it’s time for them to close. Catholics in Yarmouth have to “give themselves a future,” she said.

“They will learn what it means to be a parish. Do they feel they are a church if they see the steeple?” she asked. “A parish is people bound by the same hope. We have to let go of images, feelings that don’t match with our present.”


A shattered church seeks faith and hope

Nova Scotians recovering from crisis

 Nova Scotians find opportunity in crisis

Property sales are key to settlement

From bereavement to a new plan

Yarmouth’s Church suffers with town

The Church’s new reality reveals the same old divisions

Nobody likes talking about sexual abuse in the Church

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