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Archbishop responds to series on sexual abuse

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News

05/25/2016

OTTAWA (CCN) — Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast responded to a series of clerical sexual abuse news stories in the archdiocese by acknowledging the great evil and pledging vigilance.

“This shocking moment can become a moment of purification for us in the Catholic community and serve to remind us to keep vigilant in protecting the vulnerable, especially children,” said Prendergast in a statement released to CCN as well as to the Ottawa Sun. “We will continue to commit to making sure that our protocols for safety and security are being followed and are effective.”

“We Catholics may see in this reminder of our past failures a call from God to our church to let go of all that does not come from the teaching and life of Jesus Christ, the Lord who loves, forgives, heals, and above all is merciful,” he said.

Beginning May 17, the Postmedia’s Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun ran several days of front-page coverage tracing historical abuses back to the 1950s. Using court records and the archives amassed at Sylvia MacEachern’s blog “Sylvia’s Site,” Postmedia documented 41 victims of 11 priests.  

It reported court documents reveal the archdiocese has paid nearly $600,000 to abuse victims in the seven out of 12 lawsuits filed since 2011 that have been settled. It said five other lawsuits are still in the works, with claimants seeking a total of $7.4 million.

The archbishop said seeing the shocking news stories all in one place “laid out the enormity of the evil committed and the need for ongoing healing.”

It also provided Prendergast with an opportunity to “reassure people” new procedures are in place to “create safe environments for all.”

He pointed to the September 2015 Code of Pastoral Conduct that details requirements for all priests and others in pastoral ministry to maintain proper boundaries with children and vulnerable persons.

The code includes restrictions on who can live in rectories or spend the night there; on how one-on-one counselling sessions must take place in either a glassed-in area visible to others or in a room with an open door; how any physical contact can be misconstrued, so it must be completely non-sexual and never take place in private; and how priests and pastoral ministers must never be alone with children, youth or vulnerable people, but must always have another responsible adult present.  

The code also restricts priests from giving or receiving gifts; from giving financial advice, signing wills or accepting bequests from any vulnerable persons. The code forbids the use of alcohol, tobacco or any other drugs in the presence of children and youth and forbids physical discipline or abusive language.

The archbishop noted everyone in ministry, whether priest or volunteer, must commit to signing the code. “We will continue to commit to making sure that our protocols for safety and security are being followed and are effective,” he said.

The recent days have been difficult for Ottawa’s priests, the archbishop said.

“In reality, the priests’ reactions are mixed, like those of the faithful laity: some feeling great sadness, others shame, many a wounded sense of déjà vu,” he said. “Some manifest optimism despite the present pain drawn from the fact that we are indeed doing many good things despite this negative publicity, while others quietly remain at their posts in ministry seeking the good of God’s people.”

“They have read the Code of Pastoral Conduct issued in the fall and have agreed to abide by it. They are committed to loving God and serving his people to the best of their ability,” he said.

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