Create Abuse Registry: Law Firm

October 17, 2006

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Front Page - The Catholic Church should create a national public registry of priests who have been convicted of sexual assault, a lawyer for abuse victims said Monday.

Robert Talach, an attorney with the London-based law firm Ledroit Beckett, said public reluctance to believe in the church's ability to police itself makes such a list a necessity in order to combat cynicism.

"Words, sermons, apologies and committees are not enough," said Talach. "(The church) must break with a past filled with silent transfers, secret archives and confidentiality agreements."

Talach held a press conference Monday along with a man who is a complainant in a case involving a priest in Pembroke and a woman who was sexually abused by Rev. Charles Sylvestre in London.

In addition to Talach's suggestion the church set up a national registry of priests who have been convicted of even a single sex-related offence, two other proposals were brought forth in the hopes they would be considered by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops which is holding its annual meeting in Cornwall this week.

Carol Mieras of Kingston was sexually abused by Sylvestre between the ages of nine and 11. The 40-year-old woman was one of 47 victims who watched recently when a court handed the priest a three-year prison sentence for three decades of abuse.

Mieras said while she was pleased to hear officials with the Diocese of London will petition the Vatican to have Sylvestre defrocked, she said such action should be considered for every priest convicted of abuse.

"Bishops (should) use the authority they hold within this diocese to never employ or empower such a priest again, be it in a clerical or administrative role," she said. "This will create accountability and deterrence. It will tell the world with actions rather than just words that this is a serious crime in the eyes of the church and will not be tolerated."

The man at the press conference cannot be identified because he is a complainant in the ongoing trial of Rev. Bernard Prince in Pembroke. The man, who was in his teens when the alleged abuse occurred, said he would like to see the church facilitate counselling for victims, something which he said has made a world of difference in regards to his recovery.

"For me, it's been like a rebirth in the past year since I first began talking about the abuse I suffered," said the 40-year-old man. "But the church should do more to help victims get counseling as soon as the victims come forward."

The man said making counselling available, and affordable, would demonstrate the church's willingness to take responsibility for the actions of its priests.

"It is well within the pastoral mandate of the church to provide this for all who seek to address the psychological impact of sexual predation by priests," said the man. "This proposal is about responsibility - the responsibility of the church to care for those who have been so severely impacted by the actions of their own clergy."

Talach said while there haven't been any meaningful discussions between his firm, or the victims it represents, and the group of bishops meeting in Cornwall this week, he's hopeful the clergy members will heed the recommendations.

"We hope that for the good of all - the church, the victims and the Canadian public - that this input is acknowledged and considered by the bishops," said Talach.

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