Report on Clergy Sexual Abuse: Frequently Asked Questions

Archbishop Michael Miller has accepted all the recommendations in a report on clerical sexual abuse released November 22.

Agnieszka Ruck wrote about it in The B.C. Catholic:

A groundbreaking report by an Archdiocese of Vancouver review committee on clerical sexual abuse has been released, containing 31 recommendations and responses and naming Vancouver priests who have been criminally convicted, named in settled lawsuits or the subject of other public cases.

The 12-page report, released by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, has been published online and in this week’s B.C. Catholic. It is the culmination of a months-long survey of sexual abuse cases that took place in the Archdiocese of Vancouver since 1950 and is the first report of its kind released by any diocese in Canada.

Archbishop Michael Miller accepted all the committee’s recommendations and has launched an Implementation Working Group to work out the practical details for carrying out the recommendations.

He [began] the report with a pastoral letter in which he personally addresses victims of sexual abuse.

Go here for the full article and here to read the full 12-page Report on Clergy Sexual Abuse, which covers this ground:

  • Case Review Committee (2-3)
  • List of 31 recommendations (4-8)
  • Moving ahead – with sorrow but determination (9)
  • Canadian bishops stand by strong statement on sexual abuse (9)
  • Legal issues (10)
  • Criminal convictions, lawsuits settled and other public cases (11)
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) (12)

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Why has it taken the Catholic Church so long to address the issue of sexual abuse by priests?

The Archdiocese of Vancouver and the Catholic Church in Canada have worked steadily over the last 30 years to develop and implement policies to protect children. That said, even one case of abuse is too many. In Vancouver, we recognize we have made mistakes in the past, and recent revelations about the extent of the problem elsewhere in the world have made us resolve to intensify our efforts to protect more forcefully and to promote healing. The work of the Case Review Committee has been an excellent and inspiring first step.

2. Why are the numbers so low in Vancouver compared to New York, Philadelphia and other jurisdictions in the U.S.?

Every local diocese has its own history of leadership and some distinct local laws and values. As well, we are a smaller Archdiocese than many of our American siblings. (New York has an estimated 2.6 million Catholics, Philadelphia, 1.4 million and Vancouver, 443,000.) It is also possible that some victims/ survivors may have been afraid to report. We want all victims/survivors to know there are policies in place to protect them and if they wish to come forward they will be heard and treated with respect.

3. Did the Case Review Committee look at everything?

Yes, they reviewed every file relating to sexual misconduct. A second independent review of each and every personnel file is now planned as well. (See recommendation #10, page 6.)

4 Are there priests who have been found guilty of sexual assault still working in ministry in Vancouver?

No.

5 How often were priests in Vancouver shuffled rather than removed from ministry?

The only case we are aware of was more than 50 years ago. Vancouver has never had a practice of shuffling priests. We are aware of one case in which it might have appeared we shuffled the priest (Father McCann, see page 11), but we did not. We can refuse to allow priests from religious orders to minister here, but we have no authority to assign them or remove them from ministry elsewhere. In Father McCann’s case, the Oblates allowed him to minister in Ontario, without alerting us. One of the recommendations of the file review committee is to have Catholic jurisdictions in Canada work more closely together so this type of serious mistake doesn’t happen again. We unreservedly accept this recommendation and will be working to see it implemented.

6. When was the most recent case of sexual abuse by a priest in Vancouver?

In the last 10 years, we have received approximately 12 complaints of sexual abuse. Some of these date back to the ’70s and ’80s. Three of these allegations were not historical, however, but involved the activities of priests who were currently In
ministry. These priests were immediately removed from ministry while the allegations were investigated. Only one has been allowed to return to ministry, once it was determined that his case did not involve sexual abuse.

7. What happens to the priests who are removed from ministry?

Church law has changed in the past decade to allow them to be much more readily laicized or “defrocked.” In cases where that change is not possible, a priest removed from ministry can be given strict restrictions (for example: no contact with children, no access to social media, no right to wear clerical garb, no right to say Mass) in exchange for a modest pension.

8. Are there any priests – who have not been charged or convicted but who are strongly suspected of having abused others, whether children or adults – who are currently ministering in other dioceses?

Not to our knowledge.

9. Once a priest has been accused, what happens?

A priest who has been accused is placed on leave, and if the complaints involve children, police are notified immediately. As well, complainants are offered counselling by a qualified third-party counsellor at the expense of the Archdiocese. Until now, the review of the accusations has been handled by a formal policy that can be seen online, https://rcav.org/smc. That policy relied
on priests delegated by the Archbishop for the purpose of investigating complaints, while the new policy will mandate lay persons to the task. If a priest is found to have committed a criminal offence, responsibility for pursuing charges lies with the public justice system. If he is charged and ultimately found guilty, he will either be removed from ministry or given strict restrictions. On the other hand, if his offence is not criminal in nature but has been damaging and hurtful, the independent investigator will recommend to the Archbishop whether the conduct merits removal from or restriction in ministry.

10. Do victims have to sign confidentiality agreements or are they prevented in any way from speaking openly if they wish to?

The last time a confidentiality agreement was signed was in the early ’90s. We have not used them in almost 30 years, and the Archdiocese has waived any agreements that were previously signed.

11. Will the new victim services process be run by professionals trained in the area?

Yes, the Office of Victim/Survivor Support will be staffed by on-call professionals with certification as psychologists, registered clinical counsellors, or registered social workers.

12. How can victims be assured that these promised changes will take effect?

The current response includes deadlines as a sign of the very serious commitment of the Archbishop and all his co-workers.

13. I am a victim who has never reported. What can I do?

As of the first quarter of 2020, a new, third-party Office of Victim/Survivor Support will be established. It will be staffed by on-call professionals with certification as psychologists, registered clinical counsellors or registered social workers and complaints may be received 24/7. Until this office is established, the Archdiocese will continue to accept reports to any of the parties listed on our website, here: https://rcav.org/reporting. (There are separate contacts for abuse by clergy members and abuse by lay people.) Note that there is at least one non-priest who can receive reports in each category. Also, as of September 2019, we established an anonymous phone-based reporting system where people can leave a message on a voicemail line: (604) 683-0281 extension 50555. This line is checked daily, and a policy is in place to ensure that parties with information are protected.

14. Why was the abuse reported in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission not addressed by this committee?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission did years of thorough collaborative work. We did not want the Case Review Committee to repeat work that had already been done, nor did we wish to question the TRC findings. A summary of that group’s final report may be found here: https://rcav.org/trc.

This portion of the Report on Clergy Sexual Abuse is re-posted by permission from the Archdiocese of Vancouver website.

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