Archbishop Anthony Mancini in a recent letter spoke plainly about the overwhelming pain suffered by the victims of sexual abuse and the enormity of the breach of responsibility and trust perpetrated by offending priests.

Francis Campbell: There’s no avoiding the pain of victims

By 
  • September 12, 2020

The scourge of Catholic priests sexually abusing innocent children is never far from mind in Nova Scotia.

In the shadow of the recurring crisis, it is almost refreshing to hear a Church leader speak plainly about the overwhelming pain suffered by the victims of sexual abuse and the enormity of the breach of responsibility and trust perpetrated by offending priests.

Archbishop Anthony Mancini did that in a recent letter to the people of the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth, where a class action is in the works that will have hundreds seeking financial compensation for alleged sexual abuse by priests dating back to 1960.

Mancini said experience has shown that every time the sexual abuse crisis has been highlighted, it has been hard to face “because such crimes and the devastation which sexual abuse has had on the victims cannot and must not be ignored or swept under the carpet.”

Sweeping it under the rug is what the archdiocese is accused of.

The website of McKiggan Hebert law firm in Halifax stated that the class action was filed to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in August 2018 by Douglas Champagne on behalf of other abuse survivors and claims the archdiocese or its previous incarnations of the Halifax and Yarmouth dioceses held a decades-long policy of secrecy regarding allegations of sexual abuse.

Champagne alleges he was sexually abused by Fr. George Epoch, a Halifax priest, resulting in lasting and permanent effects on his life. The lawsuit claims the archdiocese sent priests accused of sexual misconduct to a treatment facility in Ontario, then placed them back into parishes without any notice or warning to parishioners.

The document says the archdiocese, through the archbishop, “retained sole authority to appoint, train, supervise, reprimand and dismiss priests within the archdiocese, and improperly failed to do so.” As a result, the archdiocese was negligent and it is vicariously liable for the priests’ conduct.

“The first concern that I have as archbishop is the healing and reconciliation of the victims,” Mancini wrote. “Acknowledging the unacceptable behaviour by priests who were expected to be pastoral care providers, not pastoral care abusers, is the necessary step that will bring healing, liberation and forgiveness.”

Mancini said the lawsuit did not suddenly materialize out of nowhere.

“Since my tenure as archbishop, we have faced numerous victims and resolved over 40 cases successfully where victims were given the opportunity to not only be justly compensated, but offered the opportunity to be reconciled with the Church.”

The class action is not the first in Nova Scotia and not the first for lawyer John McKiggan. McKiggan represented more than 140 complainants in a class action against priests of Antigonish that resulted in a $16-million compensation settlement with final payouts in 2012.

Mancini said it is impossible to say what the legal action will cost the archdiocese, but he said restructuring that saw the archdiocese downsize from 65 parishes and missions to 20 by January was not motivated by the potential financial cost of the lawsuit.

Mancini said there is no avoiding the truth or the fact of sexual abuse.

“Some of you will again experience anger and disappointment; others will not only question your faith, but may choose to no longer practice your faith. I can understand such responses, and as I have expressed elsewhere, enough is enough.”

If the members of the class action and the archdiocese cannot reach a settlement agreement by year’s end, scheduled January court dates will be used the settle the issue.

Mancini said the introduction of the responsible ministry protocol, training sessions and mandatory police checks were necessary but “they do not necessarily bring about healing and reconciliation, if our hearts are not touched.”

Only the grace of God can do that, he said.

(Campbell is a reporter at the Halifax Chronicle Herald.)

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