Canada’s Catholic bishops have joined their American counterparts in expressing heartbreak and sorrow over the unfolding clerical abuse crisis south of the border.
“Catholics across our country are rightly ashamed and saddened regarding the findings of the Pennsylvania Investigating Grand Jury,” said an Aug. 20 statement from the executive committee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).
“With Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, we reiterate the profound sadness that we as Bishops feel each time we learn about the harm caused as a result of abuse by Church leaders of any rank.”
The grand jury reported on decades of clerical sexual abuse involving more than 1,000 minors and about 300 predator priests as well as on the bishops who covered up their crimes.
“The Bishops of Canada treat with great seriousness instances of sexual abuse of minors and inappropriate conduct on the part of all pastoral workers – be they fellow Bishops, other clergy, consecrated persons or laity,” the CCCB statement said.
“National guidelines for the protection of minors have been in place in Canada since 1992, which dioceses and eparchies across the country have applied in their local policies and protocols.”
Canada’s Catholic bishops developed protocols long before their American counterparts because the clerical sexual abuse crisis hit Canada in the late 1980s with the revelations of abuse by Irish Catholic Brothers at Mount Cashel Orphanage, followed by the Winter Commission set up by the St. John’s, N.L. diocese in 1989 that identified systemic abuse and cover up.
Canada’s experience with the clergy abuse scandal was well over a decade before the 2002 scandal in Boston that rocked the Catholic Church in the United States and led to the 2002 Dallas Charter the bishops adopted to prevent clerical sexual abuse of children.
In 2005, the province of Ontario launched the Cornwall Inquiry into sexual abuse in the Alexandria-Cornwall diocese and found systemic failures on the part of church leaders, police and social services in responding to complaints.
Across Canada, individual dioceses have faced litigation by individuals who have claimed sexual abuse by priests. Some dioceses, such as Antigonish, have been forced to sell church properties and faced bankruptcy due to sexual abuse litigation settlements.
Antigonish’s historical $13-million dollar abuse class action settlement was announced by ex Bishop Raymond Lahey in 2009, only days before he was picked up at the Ottawa airport with child pornography on his computer. He was convicted and subsequently de-frocked by the Vatican.
The Catholic Bishops of Alberta also responded to the American abuse scandal.
“We all have a sacred trust to protect those who are vulnerable, particularly children, and to stand up and speak when we witness that trust betrayed,” said the Alberta bishops in an Aug. 17 pastoral letter, noting the high priority placed on diocesan Safe Environments and Abuse Prevention programs.
“We cannot run or hide from instances of abuse and harm and we have no desire to do so. We confront these situations with the Gospel principles of truth, justice, repentance and healing.”
“With this letter, we renew our commitment to ensure that any clergy, employee, or lay volunteer who commits an offence against children or other vulnerable persons is promptly removed from ministry, that any offences are immediately reported to civil authorities, and that victims receive an apology, compassion and assistance in recovering from any harm they have suffered, including compensation when appropriate,” said the Alberta bishops.
Individual bishops also weighed in with statements.
“Like you, I am devastated by these accounts of profound evil,” said Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver on Aug. 17.
“In addition to being sexually abused, many victims were treated very poorly by authorities in the Church,” Archbishop Miller said. “The failure of Church leaders to prevent the abuse, covering it up by moving abusers around, their lack of care and concern for victims: these were grave failures and terribly wrong. We are all rightfully outraged and discouraged by these actions.”
In an Aug. 19 column for the Ottawa Sun, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast also responded to news that ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Archbishop-emeritus of Washington, is facing credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors and that he had sexually harassed seminarians for years. He has since resigned from the College of Cardinals.
“The alleged victims included young people, seminarians and newly ordained priests,” Archbishop Terrence Prendergast wrote. “There is clear evidence of an abuse of power and trust as well as sexual crimes. Even more disconcerting are the reports that other churchmen knew of the archbishop’s proclivities. Yet they did nothing to deal with the danger to young people’s lives.”
“Learning about this high-profile case of abuse in the Church, along with similar situations in Australia, Chile and Honduras, causes me great distress,” he wrote. “Many bishops, priests and lay Catholics in the U.S. and in Canada are rightly angry, chagrined and bewildered.”
“This has been particularly hard news on the great majority of faithful Catholic priests who live lives of virtue,” Prendergast said. “How could a leader abuse his position and violate those who, in trust, looked up to him?”
“Civil and Church authorities are duty-bound to promptly address any abuse situation,” Archbishop Prendergast said. “There is no justification for hiding or covering up abuse. We must listen to victims and support them.”
Archbishop Prendergast also said he reminded a recent gathering of seminarians “they have a right to live and study for priestly ministry in a safe environment, and that they can and should report any approach of an unwanted sexual nature from anyone in the Church, including seminary formation staff all the way up to the archbishop’s office.”
Archbishop Donald Bolen of Regina posted a video noting that for some even coming to the webpage was an “act of courage.” He assured victims and their loved ones “we are committed to hearing you and supporting you.”
“As a Church community, we must sadly acknowledge that victims have not always been heard and supported and I understand that hearing such reassurance can be painful to those who have been revictimized in this way,” Archbishop Bolen said. “We are striving to do better and humbled to move forward with you.”