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Montreal Catholic archdiocese forbids priests from being alone with children

People pray at Marie Queen of the World Cathedral on June 23, 2016, in Montreal.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Priests and anyone else in "the orbit of the church" will be forbidden from being alone with children and other vulnerable people as part of a pilot project, the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Montreal said Thursday.

The goal is to create a "safety net" for everyone associated with the Catholic Church in Montreal, canon Francois Sarrazin said in an interview.

"Imagine if you are alone in a room and a child accuses you of hitting them, how will you react?" Sarrazin asked. "Whether it's true or not, you need a witness. Not being in the room alone with someone who is vulnerable is simply being prudent."

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He said the policy will be introduced in a handful of churches across the city, starting in September.

For Carlo Tarini, a spokesman for an association of victims of priests, the new rules are "too little too late."

He said the policy is just a way for the church to protect itself against lawsuits stemming from child-abuse scandals that have rocked the city's diocese and the Roman Catholic Church across the globe.

The church "knows that victims have gotten help from lawyers and have been successful in court and they will push forward for compensation when such cases are made public," Tarini said.

Recently, the Clerics of St-Viateur, a Catholic religious order that ran a school for deaf children in Montreal, was sued after 150 people came forward to say they were victims of child abuse at the boarding school between 1940 and the early '80s.

Between November and February, the order, along with a Quebec government-run health institute that took over the school, reached an out-of-court settlement with the plaintiffs for $30-million – reportedly the largest sum awarded to victims of a church sex-abuse scandal in Quebec.

Sarrazin said the policy doesn't only apply to priests but to all employees of parishes and churches, volunteers and "anyone else in the orbit of the diocese."

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Archbishop of Montreal Christian Lepine said in a statement he will create a new bureau in the diocese called the "Service of Responsible Pastoral Ministry," which will be tasked with rolling out the new policy.

Sarrazin said details will be made available at a later date.

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