The Archdiocese of Montreal did not fare well in the case of former priest Brian Boucher, who is serving eight years in prison. CNS photo/Francois Gloutnay, Presence

Fr. Raymond de Souza: Many dropped the ball, Montreal report finds

By 
  • December 2, 2020

The Boucher Report, released on Nov. 25 by the Archdiocese of Montreal, makes for distressing reading. The tale told therein also illustrates how failures in Canada may have contributed to the significant reforms made by Pope Francis last year aimed at changing the culture of episcopal governance.

Brian Boucher should never have been ordained a priest. Thrown out of the seminary in 1990 and subject to three psychological assessments for behaviour ranging from peculiar to creepy to belligerent, he nevertheless persuaded the Archdiocese of Montreal to ordain him a priest in 1996. So pressing is the paucity of priestly vocations that sometimes a man would be advanced to holy orders even if the red flags were carried in procession at the ordination Mass.

Boucher’s case showed the strengths and weaknesses of Church governance in Montreal regarding abusive behaviour. The diocese began investigating Boucher in 2015, strangely enough in response to a complaint from Boucher that he himself had suffered unwanted sexual attention from another priest. That turned out to be a lie, as Boucher was the aggressor and not the aggrieved. The archdiocese was diligent in suspending Boucher and beginning a canonical process against him.

In 2016, there was, for the first time, an allegation that Boucher had sexually abused a minor. Again, the archdiocese acted properly. Boucher was subsequently laicized by the Church and convicted in court; he is currently in prison.

The 276-page report, commissioned by the archdiocese and conducted independently by former Quebec Superior Court Justice Pepita Capriolo, shows how the proper protocols were observed regarding allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.

So that’s good. Little else is. Short of an allegation concerning a minor, the Boucher case was rife with incompetence and passing-the-buck from the beginning. There was sufficient evidence that he should never have been hired to mow the lawn at a parish, let alone be appointed its pastor.

“Many people had complained about Boucher’s unacceptable behaviour over the years: He was rude, authoritarian, overly intense, intransigent, homophobic, racist, misogynistic and verbally — and sometimes even physically — aggressive,” Capriolo wrote.

Moreover, there were worrying details about relationships with older teenagers, 18 and 19 — not “minors” strictly speaking — which should have provoked serious measures but didn’t.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, the archbishop during Boucher’s tenure, is dead. Of those still living, the most devastating criticism falls upon Archbishop Anthony Mancini, who retired as archbishop of Halifax two days after the report was released publicly.

Mancini was an auxiliary bishop in Montreal from 1999 to 2007, and he repeatedly failed to take strong action against a litany of complaints for years.

The report reveals that, when confronted in 2016 with his record, Mancini offered to resign. He was persuaded not to do so by the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi.

“Archbishop Mancini sat very quietly in his chair as I passed him papers seeming to document his inaction,” said Bishop Thomas Dowd, then auxiliary bishop of Montreal, about that June 2016 meeting. “When I asked him for his reaction, he simply acknowledged what was before him and said, ‘If I could go back I’d do things differently.’ ”

In 2018, Bishop Dowd — now the bishop of Sault Ste. Marie — met with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops in Rome. Ouellet knew Boucher, as he had been his seminary rector in Montreal in the 1990s. Dowd learned then that Archbishop Bonazzi had not sent to Rome the documentation which Dowd had shown Mancini in 2016.

Why is that important? In June 2018 the Vatican was dealing with the aftermath of the Holy Father’s catastrophic visit to Chile earlier that year, where his obstinate bungling of the sexual abuse file led to severe damage control measures, including all the Chilean bishops offering their resignations. That same month, it would be revealed that a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor had been made against Theodore McCarrick.

The Montreal case was minor compared to the Chilean and American cases, but it revealed two critical gaps. First, abusive behaviour against adults was not dealt with properly. Secondly, bishops did not have an explicit obligation to act on such allegations. Was Ouellet thinking about this as the Vatican drafted its response?

Both matters would be remedied by Vatican reforms in 2019. “Vulnerable adults,” “abuse of power” and “abuse of office” were added to the abuse protocols, meaning that now Boucher’s behaviour would have be investigated. And bishops are now obligated to act on such allegations, or face disciplinary action themselves.

Are matters better now in Montreal and the wider Church? Certainly. But it is sobering to read the Boucher Report and realize how bad things were.

(Fr. de Souza is editor-in-chief of Convivium.ca and a pastor in the Archdiocese of Kingston.)

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