Abuse protocol committee wanted to build confidence in procedures

  • October 22, 2010
mcqueen cloughTORONTO - Leaning on the expertise of six lay people, including three women, the archdiocese of Toronto has declared redress, accountability and pastoral care aren’t just words or theories but concrete realities in cases of sexual abuse.

Members of the committee that worked on revising the Toronto Church’s 20-year-old sexual abuse policies told The Catholic Register the new norms represent incremental rather than radical change, and that new Church law won’t by itself make the problem go away.

“I would like to say that we think the problem is solved,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Philip Dodgson of the Southdown Institute. “I’m afraid that it’s something that is part of society, not just the Church. The protocol that we’ve written up will need to be reviewed and updated as new knowledge and better procedures are acquired.”

While the new policies and procedures aren’t radically different from previous local Church law on the subject, last revised in 2003, this version of the policy is written in more detail and with an eye on helping ordinary people understand and have confidence in the system, said Dodgson.

“How the public has felt about the Church response to complaints of abuse was important. The committee paid a lot of attention to that,” he said.

The new protocols put an emphasis on transparency, clarity and compassion, and have been expanded to include all employees and volunteers of the archdiocese.

In many cases the committee found itself writing into the new policy the step-by-step procedures that archdiocesan judicial vicar Fr. Brian Clough already had in place but weren’t described in detail in the old policy, said Dodgson.

“What we were doing was documenting the good job that is done in these cases, rather than having a protocol that describes the bare bones of what’s to be done,” he said.

“The aim was to make people feel that the Church in Toronto had been really tackling this, and is really being very definite in its approach to stamping this out and to know that there’s redress,” said Moira McQueen, a moral theologian at Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College.

Part of building confidence was in the composition of the committee itself, said McQueen.

“Just about any time we’re talking about the protection of children, or the protection of adults, especially when it involves a sexual relationship, I think you need men and women. I think it would be essential,” said McQueen.

When women come forward who are either victims themselves or the mothers of victims, they should have confidence knowing that this policy wasn’t written exclusively by men for men, said McQueen.

There’s nothing unusual about lay input into the writing of Church law, said Michael Nobel, professor of canon law at Ottawa’s Saint Paul University.

“A bishop may consult experts to assist him in resolving matters,” Nobel wrote in an e-mail to The Catholic Register. “Indeed, he should do so. And he is free to choose the experts he deems best suited to do this.”

Nobel was not a member of the committee that worked on revised norms over this past summer.

The lay experts on the committee working with Clough were Dodgson, McQueen, administrator and accountant Joan Breech, Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board director of education John Kostoff, lawyer Hugh MacKinnon, former school principal Patricia Parisi and social worker Janie Ryan.

The most important aspect of the committee was the range of experience and expertise represented, said McQueen.

“For myself, it was more along the lines of what people bring to the committee,” she said. “It was the competence that was probably key.”

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