The Jesuits of Canada, a religious order of the Catholic Church, has committed to publishing the names of priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse dating back about 60 years.
No other major Catholic diocese or religious order in Canada has made a public commitment of this kind to follow the example of a wave of disclosures in the United States. Many of the U.S. disclosures have taken place since the 2018 release of a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania that found priests abused more than 1,000 children.
Father Erik Oland, provincial of the Jesuits of Canada, told The Globe and Mail a company that does investigations and risk assessments has been hired to review historic files, including those that are already known publicly and others that have not yet been disclosed; a list of names and where the priests worked will be made public by January, 2021, or before.
In a recent interview in Toronto, Father Oland also disclosed that the Jesuits in Canada have paid almost $6-million in out-of-court settlements to victims up until 2007, and another $1.1-million since then. Victims have long called for more transparency from the church about abuse cases and how they are handled.
“We’re really making a decision to be pro-active,” he said in a recent interview in Toronto. “We’re not waiting to be forced out from under cover. … The Jesuit order, the Catholic church … people with religious convictions are doing important work for our world, so we don’t want to keep carrying this yoke … over our shoulders.”
In the United States, the Northeast Province of the Jesuits published a list earlier this year of credibly accused priests, along with information on where they worked and when. The Jesuit Province of Canada will use a similar template, he said. The U.S. list defines credible as an allegation that is “more likely true than not after investigation.” A lawyer for the Jesuits said the order in Canada will use a similar definition.
Creating a list and publishing the names “is a way to move forward,” he said. On the motivation to do so, he said the Jesuits “consider it a necessary and appropriate response to the demand for transparency” from the church, noting that victims of sexual abuse have requested it as an act of reconciliation. As well, “it assists in validating the claims of individuals who are coming forward with reports of the experiences and it alerts the superiors of different dioceses and provinces to possible offenders that might have been in their communities.”
So far, several names of Jesuits have surfaced in connection with historic cases of sexual abuse of children: Rev. George Epoch and Brother Norman Hinton, who were named in a class-action lawsuit connected with a residential school in Ontario. Father Epoch, who died in 1986, is also among the priests named in a class-action lawsuit filed in Halifax last year. Most of the settlements the Jesuits have paid went to victims of these two abusers.
Father Oland said he made the decision to start an audit of files in October, 2018, after the release of the Pennsylvania report. He said the audit began in October of this year, and is being conducted by The King International Advisory Group. The auditors will have access to all the files in the Jesuits’ archive, said William Blakeney, the Jesuits of Canada’s delegate for allegations of misconduct, who is a lawyer and is involved in the audit. The list could be revised in the future, if new information becomes available, he added.
In addition to the settlement Father Oland disclosed, Mr. Blakeney said another $1.5-million was paid to victims in a residential school settlement, and separately about $834,000 in additional compensation to victims to victims of Father Epoch in the early 1990s.
The Society of Jesus, as the order is called, is one of the largest religious orders in Canada, although its numbers have fallen. Worldwide, there are more than 16,000 Jesuits, including Pope Francis, and it is the largest male religious order in the Catholic Church. Its priests and brothers are under the authority of a superior or provincial, and may live in a community, or work in parishes or schools. The order is comprised of six provinces in North America; five in the U.S. and one in Canada. Disclosures from the Jesuits in the United States in the past year and a half amount to several hundred names so far.
Father Oland also said that since 2000, there have been 14 complaints of abuse in English Canada and about five in French Canada, Fr. Oland said. Of those complaints, “all but one were historic cases of abuse of minors,” the order said.
About six Jesuits are currently working in a “restricted” capacity in Canada after facing an allegation, he said. This means they are not in active ministry. The auditors are to examine the process by which they were placed under restricted ministry and advise on whether the restrictions are sufficient.
The list the Jesuits publish is meant to be as complete as possible, including all credibly accused, but details are still pending, a spokesperson for the order said. The spokesperson said the order hopes the audit process will advise on what it can disclose in Canada, balancing public awareness with privacy and legal considerations.
“What we are trying to do is new and takes us into uncharted territory,” Father Oland said. “Our purpose with these cases, as with all other cases, is public awareness, to promote the healing of victims and to help correct the causes of the crisis. We will need time to devise the means appropriate to these ends.”
The move by the Jesuits is a “good start,” said Thomas Doyle, a former Dominican priest and U.S.-based canon lawyer, with 35 years of global expertise in the area, adding that Canada has been “lagging behind” in responses to the clergy abuse crisis, compared to countries such as Australia and the United States.
Publishing the names gives an important validation to victims, who often weren’t believed when they came forward, he said, adding that it also can encourage others to come forward, and is a way of “diluting the power” of the church and making it more accountable.