New Canadian Catholic bishops' report lays out guidelines for responding to sex assault allegations

October 6, 2018

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but a victims' advocate says the recommendations reflect a lingering desire to deal with problems in-house.

The report – Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse: A Call to the Catholic Faithful in Canada for Healing, Reconciliation, and Transformation – lays out guidelines for responding to sex assault allegations, as well as safeguarding against future abuse.

In a phone interview on Thursday, Bishop Ronald Fabbro of the Diocese of London, which has about 145 parishes and missions, said the report “really represents what we’ve learned over the last 25 years.”

The report reminds clergy members that under secular law they are required to go to police when presented with current allegations involving a minor. It also tells them that when allegations are brought forward years after the fact and the victim is no longer a minor, the person must be “informed of their right to approach police … should they so wish," to allow them to decide for themselves.

It adds that clergy must co-operate with police investigations.

The report says the church needs to provide pastoral care to victims of clergy sexual abuse; learn to understand sexual abuse and effectively respond to allegations; adopt better safeguarding practices and training for senior staff on dealing with the issue; and examine and address the ways the issue has affected the clergy. It also calls for a renewed focus on clergy members' personal needs in addition to their spiritual well-being.

Rob Talach, a lawyer and victims’ advocate in London, Ont., who has represented hundreds of plaintiffs in cases against the Catholic Church over the past 15 years, said the CCCB report is a positive step. But he called it a regurgitation of the protocols outlined in the conference’s 1992 report, From Pain to Hope, and said the church is still decades behind on dealing with the problem.

“They think they can handle this internally,” he said. “Look, history and track record says you can’t.”

The Catholic Church in countries around the world has been responding to abuse scandals over the past 20 years.

Given his experience with Canadian victims who have come forward years or decades after the abuse, Mr. Talach said he is particularly troubled by the CCCB’s position on reporting to police in historic cases.

Mr. Talach said the church should be required to tell police about such cases so they can investigate whether there are other victims.

“If you learn of a perpetrator whose M.O. is nine-year-olds, that’s a pedophile,” Mr. Talach said. “And that guy is likely still doing that.”

Mr. Talach said the law does not account for other potential victims, and this can allow systemic abuse to go unaddressed.

Bishop Fabbro said the church will encourage victims to take historic allegations to police.

“But I think what we’ve encountered is that some people are not ready to do that,” he said in a phone interview on Thursday. “And I think one of the lessons learned … is that we really need to listen to the victims. It takes a lot of courage to come forward, and some of them [are not ready to report to police].”

He said clergy will be required to report allegations to their superior, and they would be flagged to the Vatican. An internal investigation would occur, and the priest would be removed from ministry in the interim.

According to the 2011 National Household Survey by Statistics Canada, about 12.8 million Canadians identified as Catholic.

The root of the abuse in the Catholic Church, Mr. Talach said, is celibacy, and he had hoped the report would acknowledge that. “There is no consideration of why they have this problem," he said.

Priests take a vow of celibacy so they can devote their lives to serving God. But critics say very little has been studied about the long-term emotional or psychological effects.

The Pope has said in recent years that the church could be willing to ordain older married men as priests in isolated communities with a shortage of clergy, but he has made clear that a compromise on celibacy is not on the table.

Bishop Fabbro disagrees that celibacy is behind the church’s sexual abuse problem.

“I think it would be unrealistic to think that we could solve the issue of clergy sexual abuse by doing away with obligatory celibacy,” he said, noting that sexual abuse also exists in other churches and in families. “That would be dangerous.”

Published on October 4, 2018

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