Priest says centre could be reopened with the province’s help
Posted: Aug 24, 2012 8:49 AM AT Last Updated: Aug 24, 2012 10:17 AM AT
The board of directors of the shuttered addiction recovery centre Talbot House say they will not apply to reopen it.
The trouble for Talbot House — the only addiction recovery centre outside the Halifax area — began in February when Father Paul Abbass, the priest who ran the centre, resigned when a former resident made unspecified allegations about him.
The Cape Breton Post
Published on August 24, 2012
Staff ~ The Cape Breton Post
Premier Darrell Dexter should sit down with the Talbot House board of directors to at least kick-start a plan that will get the erstwhile men’s addiction and rehabilitation centre up and running again.
Very few options are available for the board to save a facility that board member and former resident Brad Colbourne said could mean the difference between life and death for someone suffering with an addiction.
Things were looking good in early June following a face-to-face meeting in Cape Breton between Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse and the Talbot House board of directors.
Peterson-Rafuse agreed to postpone a departmental request for proposals for a replacement for Talbot House while the two sides worked together to try to reopen the Frenchvale centre.
But, on July 6, the Department of Community Services sent the board a letter stating that it was issuing the general request for proposals after all, ostensibly because the board missed a deadline to provide the department with information — a charge the board denies.
Eventually, board members said they would submit a proposal, but told the Cape Breton Post on Thursday that they’ve decided not to, partly because the Aug. 28 deadline doesn’t give them enough time to develop a strong proposal, but fundamentally because they feel some criteria detailed in the department’s request for proposals don’t jive with the Talbot House model.
The situation calls out for the type of collaboration the two sides agreed to before the apparent breakdown in communication earlier this summer. The department might feel pressured to reinstate that relationship if it doesn’t receive any requests for proposals. But, even if it does, Talbot House would remain the obvious candidate, unless there’s some other established centre in another idyllic rural Cape Breton setting — with another complement of capable staff and professional, passionate board members — that we’re not aware of.
The Department of Community Services launched an operational review of Talbot House in December 2010. An unspecified complaint was levelled against the facility’s executive director, Rev. Paul Abbass, who subsequently took a leave of absence. The Cape Breton Regional Police concluded there was nothing criminal to investigate, yet Abbass remained off duty.
An interim executive director resigned in March, after which the board decided to close Talbot House indefinitely and the province cut off funding. The operational review was critical of Abbass and the Talbot House board. Abbass and the board members accepted that some of the criticism was warranted, but refuted other allegations.
We’re not that naive to assume we know what’s being said behind closed doors and to conclude that there isn’t wounded pride on both sides. But Talbot House is worth saving — for the lives it saves. The premier has the power to get that process underway and to keep it on the tracks. He should exercise it.
The complaint sparked a government review, which determined the centre in Frenchvale was not following proper procedures.
The Department of Community Services found multiple failings at Talbot House in an operational review in the spring. DCS has since issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a new recovery centre.
Talbot House board member Jim Gogan said they thought about applying but have reconsidered for a number of reasons.
Firstly, he said RFP are extremely complex for a small board. Also, it requires a recovery centre to accept clients on methadone, which is against the Talbot House philosophy.
“The third one that’s caused me a lot of concern and I believe some others on the board as well is that one of the reviewers, one of the reviewers that will be evaluating the RFPs that will be submitted is actually the person that conducted the DCS review of Talbot House,” said Gogan.
“As you know, the board took considerable exception both factually and interpretively with that report, and I think we felt that it would be very difficult to try to overcome those thoughts and beliefs that are obviously embedded in DCS.”
Gogan says the board wants someone in government, possibly even the premier, to look past the conflict to restore Talbot House while there’s still time. He said he wants the government to consider what Talbot House meant to its residents before funding a new centre.
Abbass speaks out
Abbass, former executive director, said the Talbot House could be reopened if the province stepped.
“At the end of the day it is [the resident’s] voice that matters. If this is not listened to then I think all of have something to be ashamed of,” Abbass told the CBC’s Steve Sutherland.
In April, Cape Breton Regional Police said no criminal charges would be laid against the priest in Cape Breton who has spoken for the Diocese of Antigonish in recent years.
“It’s been up and it’s been down. Many times it feels very unreal,” he said.
“So I have a range of emotions I probably haven’t worked out yet…you try to make sense out of what has been a situation that hasn’t made a lot of sense, at least to me.”
Abbass said he has still never seen the letter of complaint that added pressure to Talbot House.
He had been the voice of the diocese through the child pornography scandal involving Bishop Raymond Lahey and the sale of church properties to satisfy a settlement with victims of sexual abuse by priests. He said being a Catholic priest during that time compounded his situation at the addiction centre.
“All of our parents probably said this to us, didn’t they, ‘Something good will always come out of something bad.’ In some ways I’m trying to figure out what’s the good, where’s the good?” he said.
The priest has lived in New Glasgow since resigning.