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CCCB to publish new sexual abuse prevention guidelines

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) is on track to publish a new document on protection of minors later this year.

Meanwhile, dioceses across Canada have already come up with extensive protocols to prevent sexual abuse, harassment and other inappropriate behaviour by clergy, staff and volunteers.

The CCCB document was approved in principle at the last bishops’ plenary in September 2016 and slated for publication later this year, said CCCB communications director Rene Laprise.

That deadline has to be postponed because of its comprehensive nature. The document is in the final stages of translation into French and English and proofreading of both texts, he said.

With a working title of “Moving Towards Healing and Renewal — the Canadian Experience,” the new document updates and replaces the 1992 document “From Pain to Hope.”

Twenty-three years ago the CCCB was a pioneer in responding to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, but since 1992 much has changed, Laprise said. “In 1992, we didn’t have guidelines on the Vatican website, which now we have.”

Over the years, “From Pain to Hope” has undergone revision and updating, but this new document will replace it, Laprise said.

Like “From Pain to Hope,” the new document “is a guide,” he stressed. That means when it is published, it does not mean every bishop has “to apply everything in it.”

Many dioceses already have their own guidelines posted on their websites, Laprise said. “The new guide by the CCCB will not be like throwing away everything they have already. They could take it as a base to improve their own guidelines, or to have a few checks.”

“The CCCB will not comment on what a particular diocese is doing, or making comparisons among dioceses,” Laprise said. “Each bishop in his own diocese, with their resources and their reality, will put in place their own policies, if not already done, or improve them if necessary.”

News of the CCCB document comes on the heels of reports in the mainstream news media about a pilot program in the Montreal archdiocese that will expand from 10 churches to the rest of the archdiocese’s 194 parishes by 2020. The pilot program requires digital fingerprints, and background checks for priests and pastoral staff who work with children, minors and vulnerable adults. Even those who pass the checks are not allowed to be alone with children. For example, a priest hearing a child’s confession will be in a place where they are visible to another adult.

The Toronto archdiocese has posted similar comprehensive guidelines for its staff and volunteers. It also includes a section on the use of social media.

“The Archdiocese of Toronto will not tolerate clergy, staff or volunteers posting obscene, harassing, offensive, derogatory, defamatory or otherwise potentially harmful comments, links or images, including sexually explicit or material deemed inappropriate, which discredits or harms the reputation of the Archdiocese of Toronto,” says its guidelines.

It also requires a police background check for volunteers who work with youth, as does Vancouver.

“Physical contact shall be appropriate to the situation and age of the participant and only permissible if: i) it does not cause disproportionate or unnecessary stress or anxiety to the participant; and ii) it is entirely and unambiguously non-sexual,” Vancouver’s extensive guidelines say.

“Some examples of appropriate touch: shaking a participant’s hand in greeting; holding hands in a prayer or song; short hugs; high five.”

“Corporal punishment is not acceptable at any time,” it stressed.

“Additional examples of inappropriate touch: kissing a participant or coaxing him or her into kissing you; lengthy hugs or forceful frontal hugs; cuddling; tickling; piggy-back rides; lap-sitting; wrestling; stroking a participant’s hair; touching buttocks or genital area.”

The Edmonton archdiocese’s “Called to Protect” program focuses on screening volunteers and staff; training them how to define acceptable interactions between adults and children and recognize when “a child may be at risk for abuse or is already being abused”; monitoring “high-risk building locations, activities and interactions”; training to ensure safe environments; and responding to suspicions of abuse in ways that follow the law while respecting individual rights.

The Ottawa archdiocese also has an extensive Code of Pastoral Conduct online.

Among its requirements: “Clergy, staff, and volunteers shall provide a professional work environment that is free from physical, sexual, psychological, written, or verbal intimidation or harassment,” the code says. “Clergy, staff, and volunteers assume the full burden of responsibility for establishing and maintaining clear, appropriate boundaries in all pastoral relationships, including counselling and counselling-related ministerial relationships.”

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