Halifax Chronicle Herald
February 16, 2012 – 3:03pm UPDATED 8:52 p.m.
Father Paul Abbass is on leave from his duties with the Diocese of Antigonish after a complaint was filed against him. (LAURA FRASER / Staff / File)
A high-ranking member of the Roman Catholic Church who is the head of an addictions centre in rural Cape Breton has been relieved of his duties pending the outcome of an inquiry into allegations of sexual abuse and access to medication.
Rev. Paul Abbass, the executive director of Talbot House in Frenchvale for 17 years, is the subject of a review after a complaint was made to the provincial Community Services Department, which oversees the addiction-treatment facility.
No one from Community Services, Talbot House or the Diocese of Antigonish would reveal the reason for the review.
But Dave Mantin of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said he has received two separate complaints about Abbass’s behaviour from former residents of Talbot House in the past year.
One man made an allegation of a sexual nature while a second man complained about access to medication as well as Abbass’s behaviour.
Mantin said the second man began keeping a diary documenting late-night visits by at least one Talbot House resident to the nearby rectory where Abbass lived.
The centre treats men in their 20s and 30s who have a history of multiple addictions.
Mantin said Community Services and the RCMP are aware of the complaints and are taking action.
An RCMP spokesperson could not be reached Thursday evening, but Kristen Tynes of Community Services confirmed that her department is doing an organizational review of Talbot House.
“Because it’s an ongoing review, we cannot discuss the content,” she said.
Talbot House, a non-profit centre run by a board of directors, received about $420,000 in provincial government funding in the 2010-11 fiscal year.
Board chairman John Gainer said Thursday he would not reveal the allegations made against Abbass until the review is finished.
“You can well imagine how difficult this is for staff and the 14 residents at Talbot House, who have a lot of questions but no answers at this point,” Gainer said in a telephone interview.
He said the board first received information from Community Services on Feb. 2 and met with Abbass that evening.
“And on Feb. 3, he left the property,” Gainer said.
Gainer said Abbass oversaw day-to-day operations at Talbot House, including finances, and was responsible for some counselling.
Abbass has also stepped down as parish priest of St. Mary’s Catholic Church on the Talbot House grounds and has been relieved of his duties as episcopal vicar and director of pastoral services for the Diocese of Antigonish.
Archbishop Anthony Mancini appointed Abbass in 2009 to serve as spokesman for the diocese after police charged former bishop Raymond Lahey with importing child pornography. Earlier that year, Lahey had helped to negotiate a $15-million class action settlement with an estimated 80 victims who said priests had sexually abused them in parishes throughout Nova Scotia between 1950 and 2009.
The number of alleged victims has since risen to 140.
As spokesman, Abbass has been front and centre in addressing church issues, including the sale of church-owned property to help pay off the $15-million lawsuit settlement.
Just last month, Abbass told The Chronicle Herald that the church was trying to resurrect a feeling of hope in the diocese.
“We’re in the early stages of rebuilding,” he said. “We’re trying to rebuild a sense of hope within our people, a sense that things can be different and that we will do things different.”
Rev. Don MacGillivray spoke on behalf of the diocese during a telephone interview Thursday.
“This is a workplace complaint, the nature of which we do not know,” he said.
“Everyone needs to be treated fairly, the complainant needs to be treated fairly and so does Father Abbass.”
MacGillivray said church officials are conscious of the “tenor of the times.”
“We want the truth, and we don’t know what the truth is right now,” he said.
Abbass, who is now living outside the parish, declined comment in an email Thursday.
Mantin, the Atlantic Canada group leader of the survivors group, is encouraging anyone else with concerns about behaviour at Talbot House to contact him.
“People with addictions are already in a weakened state and need to be treated with care and respect and not taken advantage of,” he said.