N.S. Catholics face more turmoil as top priest leaves under cloud

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canada.com

17 February 2012

By Heather Yundt, Postmedia News February 17, 2012

John MacEachern, 65, remembers when he read the news in the morning paper.

“I was sad,” he said Friday. “It drained the blood out of my head.”

On Thursday, the Diocese of Antigonish in Nova Scotia announced that Rev. Paul Abbass — a top priest in the diocese — would be taking a leave of absence following complaints filed against him at a Cape Breton drug-and-alcohol rehab centre for men.

MacEachern — a Catholic involved with the diocese — called this yet another storm for members of the diocese.

“It’s a group of people out to sea and they keep getting buffeted by storms,” he said. “People are adjusting to the storms as they get on, and then they settle in, and then another storm hits, and then they adjust again.”

Abbass was the executive director of Talbot House for 17 years, before stepping aside following the complaints. He has also taken a leave of absence from his parish duties. The Nova Scotia Department of Community Services, which provides funding for Talbot House, is working with its board of directors to conduct an organizational review to address the complaints.

DCS could not confirm the nature of the complaints, but Dave Mantin of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said he has recently received two complaints about Abbass. One, he says, was a sexual complaint. The other was related to the refusal of medical treatment and access to medication.

This is one more in a series of sex-related incidents for the diocese.

In 2009, the diocese reached a $15-million settlement with people sexually abused by priests as far back as the 1950s.

Weeks later, Bishop Raymond Lahey stepped down after being charged with importing child pornography. He had been caught at Ottawa’s airport with a large cache of child pornography on his computer. Lahey pleaded guilty to the charges.

The following year, the diocese announced that it would be putting 400 properties — including community halls, unused rectories, and vacant land — up for sale to pay for the abuse settlements.

Abbass was the spokesman for the diocese throughout all of this.

MacEachern calls the allegations against Abbass another test of faith.

“Church is community. We share, we contribute, we pray together . . . so it’s a family issue here as well,” he said. “So whenever one of the family is suffering, whenever a member of the family goes astray, then the rest of us get knocked down by that.”

MacEachern says there is a “climate of mistrust” in the Catholic community, to the point that “Catholic priests and alter boys have become standard jokes for standup comedians.”

The incidents, he says, are distracting from the better parts of the church.

“(They have) contaminated all of the good things from the good people who have been part of the church for a very long time.”

Rev. Donald MacGillivray, the director of pastor planning in the Diocese of Antigonish and the pastor of St. Anthony Daniel Parish in Sydney, N.S., said the abuse allegations and trials have caused some members to leave the church.

“There are people, quite honestly, who have said, ‘I can’t do it anymore,'” he said. “But then, on the other hand, there are people who say ‘My faith isn’t dependent on a bishop or on a priest. My faith is much deeper than that.'”

MacGillivray says it is impossible to say just how many people have left the church for this reason.

“It has been difficult,” he said. “But we’re doing our best to move through it.”

DCS says the review will be completed in a matter of weeks. MacGillivray stressed that this is a work-related review of which the details cannot be known until the process is complete.

“We want the truth. We want a fair process,” he said. “We don’t want people jumping to conclusions. Because that’s not fair to anybody.”

hyundt@postmedia.com

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