Our Church has been plunged into a genuine crisis since we became aware of the scale of the sexual abuse of minors committed by priests, bishops and deacons, or other persons who had been given an ecclesial mission.
This awareness also extends to vulnerable adults, in particular women religious abused by priests and poorly protected by their superiors.
Sins unveiled and in the open, unbearable crimes, scandals that hurt all members of the Church—first and foremost, the victims—and our societies that expect better from religion. These abuses also demonstrate a dysfunction in the governance of our Church and in the exercise of the managerial ministry carried out by ordained ministers. These crimes are abuses of power, breaches of trust or abuses of conscience, and their concealment is not the least aspect of the scandal.
These facts have been known by many people in charge for a few decades, but their magnitude has been brought to the attention of most of us in the last few years, with an intensity that has shaken us. We cannot discharge ourselves of responsibility for this moral bankruptcy by considering that it is the work of only a part of our brothers, but we must recognize that we have a part of it and that we are engaged in a work of conversion, recovery and transformation.
From awareness to responsibility
Bishops and local churches must turn away from denial and silence to find ways to put victims first and to show concrete compassion for them by welcoming, listening and accompanying them towards healing. In Canada, we also need to be aware of the scandal of the residential schools for Indigenous children, which has long been erased from our collective memory. This result of a colonial policy in which ecclesial institutions were complicit contributed to a cultural genocide that also encouraged abuses.
In our country, awareness dates back to the early 1980s with various cases of sexual abuse. The Canadian Bishops began to address the issue in 1987, and in 1992 published the document From Pain to Hope with guidelines and recommendations. A few years ago, the CCCB (Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops) formed a new ad hoc committee to move forward. The document Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse was adopted by the Bishops in September 2018.
In the wake of the motu proprio “Vos estis lux mundi” published on May 7, 2019, dioceses and religious communities have a period of one year to implement “public, stable and easily accessible systems for submission of reports”.
In the field in the diocese
In the Archdiocese of Quebec, to cite our own work site in this regard, we created a diocesan task force in the fall of 2018 for the protection of minors and vulnerable people in order to create a safe pastoral environment, easier access to the reporting of particular situations, an effective process for the reception of victims and the handling of allegations and, finally, proposals for support that respect victims.
We have set up sessions to raise awareness and provide information on the sexual abuse issue for all people in charge of pastoral ministries and stakeholders, as well as for diocesan staff.
We still have to establish effective prevention processes with all our stakeholders and our thousands of volunteers in the parishes and in the various groups of faithful. We also want to develop a code of ethics for our pastoral staff and codes of conduct for all stakeholders in the field.
The people in charge of priestly and diaconal formation continue to review their formation programs with respect to the question of the development of the psycho-sexual maturity of the candidates. We will be proceeding very soon with the revision of our diocesan protocol for handling allegations of sexual abuse and will evaluate the ease of access to the reports and the complaint-handling procedure.
We are also working on communicating to the public on the actions we are taking, the policies that are being applied and the statistics on situations handled by the advisory committee, in order to improve transparency.
As a Bishop and as a brother among the baptized, I hope that these concrete measures will help prevent other abusive situations and will lead our Church towards proposals of healing, in order to reconnect with the evangelical demand: “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40).
Most Rev. Marc Pelchat
Auxiliary Bishop of Quebec
These remarks are taken from the Autumn 2019 issue of the ad vitam webzine “Abuse in the Church: Between Crisis and Hope”.