Canadian clergy-abuse survivors gathered in Cornwall, Ont., this week to lobby for reforms, asking Catholic Church leadership to boost disclosure, publish the names of credibly accused priests in the country and create external oversight to monitor how the church handles sexual-abuse claims.
The survivors’ gathering coincides with the annual plenary assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) this week. A group of about six bishops met with the survivors on Sunday. But the survivors say they have so far been denied permission to speak to the main assembly of about 90 bishops, despite sending a letter of request in August.
It’s believed to be the first time that Indigenous and non-Indigenous survivors of clergy abuse have joined together to push for change on this issue. They want to see more accountability, transparency and justice from the church and assurances that stronger protection standards are being implemented across the country.
“We’re hoping that our presence here in Cornwall will cause a pause in the bishops’ assembly this week to take into consideration our voices, our concerns and our desire to be part of the solution to end this crisis, which is a global crisis,” said Brenda Brunelle, who was abused by a priest as a 12-year-old girl in Windsor, Ont.
A Globe and Mail story this week detailed how the responses in Canada to the sexual-abuse scandal hitting the Catholic Church lag the deeper changes in peer countries. Canada doesn’t have a national child-safeguarding watchdog with specific oversight of the Catholic Church, unlike Ireland, nor have there been published estimates on the numbers of victims, credibly accused priests or the scope of settlements paid out to victims, unlike the United States and Australia.
“Canada is way behind on this issue,” Ms. Brunelle said at a news conference where eight clergy-abuse survivors spoke. She said that when they raised the matter of implementing the church’s own guidelines on protecting minors, they were told “each diocese is self-governing. They have a guideline that they follow and they have no way of knowing whether a bishop is following it or not.”
Three survivors of abuse from St. Anne’s residential school in Northern Ontario spoke of the lasting impact of the abuse they suffered, which ranged from sexual abuse to being hit with books and made to eat their own vomit; they repeated calls for the Pope to apologize for the church’s role in running residential schools.
As well, “we’re here to ask the Pope to release the documents that have proven there has been abuse. We need these documents to be released for educational purposes, so that we can rewrite the true Indigenous history of Canada,” said Evelyn Korkmaz, a Cree residential-school survivor and founding member of Ending Clergy Abuse, a global organization.
The Globe applied for media accreditation to the bishops’ meeting four days after the deadline and was denied. The Globe asked for a copy of this week’s agenda for the bishops’ assembly, which was also denied. On the CCCB website, it says the implementation of guidelines on protecting minors, released last year, is on the agenda.
Canada has not produced numbers on the scale of the problem, such as the size of settlements the church has paid out, the number of abuser priests or how many victims there are. The group of survivors wants to see the church fund an arm’s-length, third-party body that would compile numbers, monitor how the church’s policies are being implemented and ensure credible accusations are reported to outside authorities.
Jerry Boyle of Cambridge, Ont., is one of the survivors. He endured two years of sexual assaults as a boy and adds the Basilian priest who abused him was shuffled from school to school, despite knowledge he was a child molester. “Turn over the documents,” he said. “The people that are criminals – you know who they are. And if you’ve aided and abetted a sexual predator, you’re as bad as he is.”
The group is comprised of representatives from Ending Clergy Abuse, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and the St. John’s-based Pathways Foundation, along with Indigenous survivors of the Catholic-run St. Anne’s residential school.
The Globe reached out to the CCCB for comment on the survivors’ demands; it didn’t respond. In an earlier letter to the Globe, the CCCB said that its offices are not mandated to oversee how its guidelines on protecting minors are being implemented in each diocese.
Cornwall carries a historic association with this issue. The city in Eastern Ontario is home to a sexual-abuse scandal that sparked a three-year public inquiry, the results of which were released in 2009. That inquiry found “systemic failures” in institutions’ responses to allegations of sexual abuse of minors.
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