A former victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a Roman Catholic priest in the London, Ont. diocese says he would like to see charges brought against the pope after a sweeping grand jury report in the United States documenting decades of sexual abuse allegations against children by men of the cloth.
The church needs to be held accountable at the highest level for crimes against humanity - John Swales
The grand jury report, which is the most comprehensive in American history, accuses hundreds of priests in six of Pennsylvania's eight dioceses of sexually abusing children for decades, with the church hiding deviant priests, often by reassigning them to different parishes or sending them to treatment centres.
John Swales, who was abused as a teenager by Father Barry Glendinning in the 1970s and waged a nearly decade-long legal battle against the Catholic church for justice, said he'd like to see charges brought against the Holy Father himself.
"I'd like to see the pope charged," he told host Julianne Hazelwood on CBC Radio One's London Morning Monday. "That's the chief executive of this institution to be held accountable for his crimes and his behaviours and his acceptance to sit here and vilify the perpetrators and not take responsibility for their actions is just fundamentally wrong."
Swales said senior leaders of the church also need to be held to account, even when abusive priests are being "thrown under the bus."
"Rightfully so," he said. "They've done egregious acts, but the church has never taken responsibility for its complicity in the crimes against children and their families."
"The church needs to be held accountable at the highest level for crimes against humanity," he said. "They feigned a lack of knowledge and that really is quite disturbing."
It comes on the same day the Vatican published an unprecedented letter from Pope Francis to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics about clergy abuse, vowing to end priestly abuse and cover-ups.
"I agree," said London, Ont.-based sexual abuse lawyer Rob Talach, who is currently representing 100 clients of clergy abuse across Canada.
"I don't think we have to go as far as Rome to find church leadership that is culpable and responsible. We've got some still living here in our backyard and the evidence is overwhelming," he said.
"Maybe we need to take a closer look at whether the institutional leadership crossed more than a civil boundary and more of a criminal boundary."
Talach, who represented Swales and his family in their fight against the church, said the allegations in Pennsylvania fit the pattern of clergy abuse in Canada.
"This pattern we see in Pennsylvania, we see here in the London area. We see in other dioceses in Canada. It almost makes me think 'was this documented out of the Vatican somewhere, the how-to, or even taught in seminary?' This is so identical to what we see in Canada."
"Now [there are] 32 priests in the dioceses of London that we've identified over the years," he said. "The way they dealt with the Swales family led to this massive disclosure in this area."
"Pre-Swales people were to not being believed," he said. "The winds have shifted thankfully."
Despite the fact the winds have shifted since Swales' precedent setting 2004 legal battle against the church, Swales said church leaders are employing "mind blowing" tactics against survivors willing to confront abusive priests and the church itself in court.
"For example, the church has been providing them with supports. The supports have now been removed," he said.
"They're in a state of panic. People have been looking to this church to do the right thing and that is not what they feel has happened."
Published on August 20, 2018