We are here today to raise issue with the conciliation process recently offered by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Moncton to the victims of sexual abuse by Father Camille Leger or other priests of the Archdiocese.
Let me be very clear from the outset, as advocates for victims, myself a victim’s rights lawyer and Mr. Mantin as a representative of SNAP and as a victim himself,, are united in our opposition to the plan as presently proposed .. This plan, is best described as “church-centric” in that it, by accident or by design, it best suits the needs of the Archdiocese. Furthermore it fails to address the core demands and motivation of most victims of sexual abuse.
Let me specifically outline the basis for our concerns:
1. Secrecy instead of privacy
Having worked with victims and represented their interests we understand the desire for privacy. Being sexually abused as a young person is typically not information which most people want their friends and neighbours to know. Unfortunately being a victim is viewed by some as a stigma. While the real shame, embarrassment and dishonour of this crime should be carried by only the perpetrator, too often the victim also feels that burden. Therefore confidentially and privacy is important to many.
Our present legal structures recognize this reality. Those we make a complaint to police, have their identities and information stringently protected by the police involved. Once criminal charges are laid against the perpetrator, an automatic public ban on the identity of the victim is put in place. That court mandated protection is permanent unless the victim chooses otherwise.
In civil proceedings, lawsuits, again the victim is allowed to proceed with their identities veiled and the Courts have again been sensitive to the privacy of victims by granting similar publication and identity bans in those cases as well.
The Archdiocese in their plan have firstly failed to point out to victims that privacy can be maintained through the already existing legal structures of the land, both criminal and civil. Instead they have made it appear that their plan is the only one that offers privacy. The cynical amongst us may even suggest that they have used the victims’ fear of being disclosed to herd them into their process.
But the Archdiocese plan does not stop at privacy of the victim. It also involves privacy for the perpetrators, being both those who committed the sexual abuse as well as those in the Church who may have known of it or covered it up. This broad and sweeping confidentiality in their process can be best described as secrecy. Secrecy is not new to the Roman Catholic Church, it is in fact their preferred method of dealing with matters of scandal.
For anyone who doubts that secrecy is a driving force behind this plan, just look to the outcome of a similar approach in the Diocese of Bathurst. Did we hear of the names of any other perpetrators out of that process? Were the police involved in any additional investigations and prosecutions? Was it ever explained to the good people of that Diocese how priests were able to abuse so many for so long? Why at the end of that process was the final act a quiet request to the Courts to forever seal all information that process learned about abuse in the Acadian peninsula?
The problem with secrecy is that is protects and enables sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is one of the most egregious crimes in our society. Those who commit it, condone it or cover it up must be exposed to the light of day. The police must be involved when the perpetrator is alive in order to protect society. The public should know if an institution, such as the Roman Catholic Church, has enabled it. Most importantly, the victims, have the fundamental right to know why and how a sexual offender came to be a priest in their parish when they were young and vulnerable. Secrecy benefits only one side in this process – the Archdiocese, its bishops, its priests and its reputation.
2. Representation for the victims
In a case of sexual assault there are two main parties, the victim and the perpetrator. One of the core legal beliefs of our justice system is that the perpetrator, is entitled to legal representation. The right to a lawyer! We all know that from TV and the movies. If I or anyone was to stand up and suggest otherwise there would a outcry.
Now if the accused is afforded that fundamental right you would think that the victim would surely have the same right to legal representation. Victims by their very nature can be vulnerable and they should be provided the right to their own lawyer. A lawyer that they have chosen and who is duty bound to have only the victim’s best interests at heart.
The Archdiocese’s plan shockingly denies the victims that right. Not only does it fail to provide financial support for victims to get a lawyer it declares that they will not even deal with any victims’ lawyers at all. Victims are to come to their process, unaided, naïve and vulnerable., just the way the Church likes them.
The Church expects the victims to simply – trust the process, trust the church. If there is one thing that this Archdiocese does not deserve from these victims it is trust. We have already seen the Archdiocese’s failure to be candid on the extent of their knowledge of Father Leger’s crimes. Why would a victim trust the Church now? How can a victim trust the Church? The Roman Catholic Church’s track record on being trustworthy on this issue is not exactly encouraging.
These two main issues, secrecy and the lack of legal representation for the victims are two of the main concerns we have with this process. Some additional concerns are:
1. the short time lines – June 30th – which does nothing but create stress and an unnecessary sense of urgency in victims.;
2. The valuation scale, in that what they propose to pay is inadequate, especially for those victims where the abuse fundamentally altered their lives;
3. Finally the process was designed without any input from the victims or their advocates. I can tell you that my phone never rang.
At this time I would like to briefly turn the floor over to Mr. Mantin. Again by way of introduction he is the Director of S.N.A.P. Atlantic Group. S.N.A.P. stands for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. This victim’s advocacy group originated in the United States but is now a global force working in support of victims. Not only is Mr. Mantin a S.N.A.P. Director but more personally he is also a victim of sexual abuse when he was a young person within the Catholic faith.