Toronto to review abuse protocols

  • April 23, 2010
Archbishop CollinsTORONTO - In the wake of the abuse scandal rocking the worldwide Church, Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins will convene a committee of experts to examine and update the archdiocese’s  protocols for dealing with priestly misconduct.

Collins made the announcement in a pastoral letter read at Masses in parishes throughout the archdiocese the weekend of April 17-18.

But the review isn’t merely a reaction to headlines buffeting church hierarchy around the world. For two years the archdiocese has been planning to take another look at how it handles sex abuse allegations and bring its own norms into closer alignment with Vatican norms, said Fr. Brian Clough, Toronto’s judicial vicar.

“I will be asking a qualified group of lay people, recognized as having relevant experience with youth, psychology, legal issues and ethics, to examine carefully whatever we can learn from other groups, and to recommend any ways that our procedure can be made even more effective,” Collins said in his letter, which he read at the 8 a.m. Mass at St. Michael’s Cathedral April 18.

Getting an expert team of lay people together to advise the archbishop is nothing new, said Clough, who will chair the committee.

“It continues what we’ve done from the beginning,” he said. “Obviously, we don’t have an expertise in all areas. We’re looking for expertise to make the policy as good as possible.”

The final team is expected to include seven lay people, including a victims’ advocate. The committee will begin its work in early May. A report is to be submitted to Collins by late July and the revised manual — called Procedure for Cases of Alleged Misconduct — is to be released in the fall.

When the 1989 policy was last updated in 2002, with the revised policy published in 2003, the Vatican was still issuing revisions and additions to its own norms in Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela. Now that the Vatican’s intentions from the major 2002 reform are firmly in place it’s a good time for the archdiocese to revise its own law, said Clough.

Collins said that over the past two decades the procedure has helped make the Church community much safer. He said it is transparent and “fulfills every obligation of law in Ontario and Canada... but we need to review it again.” The review is also timed to be completed before Ontario’s bishops renegotiate their liability insurance policy later this year.

While noting that the scandals “deal largely with incidents from many years ago” and calling them “dramatic exceptions” to the faithful service given by the vast majority of priests, Collins said when even one priest does wrong, it causes great suffering for all laity, clergy and religious.

He said reflecting on the painful reality of abuse “challenges us to work more effectively to do all that we can to ensure that this evil does not afflict the vulnerable in the future. Though we may never expect to be fully rid of it, we must never cease to try to do so.”

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