Church leads in combatting abuse

By  Lea Karen Kivi, Catholic Register Special
  • February 22, 2024

Recent sexual abuse civil suits against leaders in the Canadian Catholic Church, including Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Quebec City Cardinal Gérald Lacroix, can leave the faithful struggling to find signs of hope. They won’t get any help by relying on typical media stories, says Gatineau Archbishop Paul-André Durocher.

In fact, Durocher expresses personal frustration at the lack of coverage of the work of hundreds of people throughout Canada and the world who are working on making safe environments.

At the start of his three-year mandate as chair of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) committee for protection of minors and vulnerable adults, Durocher shared his own views of work being done to address abuse in the Church. He feels humbled to work with remarkable people who sit on this committee. “They really take their work to heart,” he emphasized, noting they include survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

The committee for responsible ministry advises the executive committee on implementation of the 2018 guidelines for creating safe environments, Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse, that was developed by an ad hoc committee. 

The new guidelines provide a section on resources including practical guides, education/training programs, governmental resources and agencies promoting protection of minors.

The 2018 guidelines place an emphasis on working towards care and healing of victims. Previously, the emphasis of guidelines was on how to respond to allegations. Now, Durocher said, the Church is asking “how to journey with the person who has been abused.”

Implementation of the 2018 guidelines is the responsibility of every diocese. The guidelines apply to mission churches, national churches and to various other Church activities, such as charismatic prayer groups and youth camps.

The Archdiocese of Gatineau, in implementing them, reorganized its complaint-handling structures. Adults complaint of violations of their Code of Conduct do not necessarily involve sexual abuse. Some involve abuse of power or workplace harassment. There are three different respondents in the Archdiocese — one for each kind of complaint. They have also set up an umbrella council to review policies and determine what training needs. One woman has been appointed a safe environment coordinator responsible for formation workshops with priests and doing training in parishes.

Canadian bishops themselves are receiving training. At last year’s Plenary Assembly, all participated in a safeguarding workshop.

Within Canada, but outside of the Church, Durocher is encouraged to see the appointment of Prof. Dr. Mariéle Wulf to The Centre for Safeguarding Minors and Vulnerable Persons at Saint Paul University as she has accompanied victims of abuse on their healing journeys. The centre will host an international conference in May to discuss these issues.

In Rome, the work of the pontifical commission led by Cardinal O’Malley is looking into the need for specialized accompaniment for victims of sexual abuse.

“The Catholic Church right now is one of the organizations that is most seriously taking to heart these issues and working at implementing them across the board” Durocher said. When speaking with people working with other community organizations, he sees their work making an impact beyond the Church. A director of one of these organizations told him the safeguarding procedures and sensitivity training being undertaken by the Church will change the whole community, particularly in villages where the only institution left is the local parish.

Internationally, Durocher sees the Church effecting remarkable social and cultural change. At a conference in Rome, he heard speakers who were leading safeguarding processes in Africa and Asia. Their work is counter-cultural in their milieu. To speak about childhood sexual abuse, to speak about bringing forward a complaint, is unacceptable in some societies. Durocher said he was in awe as he listened to some nuns and how they were accompanying children whose parents would beat them if they said that they had been abused by a priest.

The pontifical commission members have just published a universal guidelines framework which is to be applied to all the dioceses in the world, Durocher said. They will develop criteria and auditing processes and then determine if dioceses are actually putting these into place:

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