Church not dealing with abuse effectively: expert

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Moncton Times Transcript

04 Jan 2013 08:32AM

by gail harding

Times & transcript staff

An associate professor in religious studies says the Roman Catholic Church has missed its opportunity numerous times to deal with child abuse allegations in an effective way.

“I think it is fair to say the crisis in confidence is not going away, it is growing deeper. I think the opportunities have been there for the last 20, if not 30 years, and now a whole generation has been affected or disaffected by it,” said Derek Simon.

Simon teaches religious studies at St. Thomas University in Fredericton. He said the way the church has dealt with the two issues of priests having sexual relations with children and priests possessing, creating or distributing child pornography has been one of “duck and hope it goes away.”

He said it is just not this generation, but older generations of church members who have been affected.

“With every decade I think it is going to be more and more difficult,” said Simon. “The learning opportunities are there but the church is choosing a path, a strategy which is eroding and not restoring public confidence.”

While he was not responding specifically to the most recent story of the suspension of two priests from the Moncton Archdiocese, Simon said the way issues like this are handled by the church is not effective.

The Archdiocese announced that Rev. Yvon Arsenault and Irois Després have been suspended indefinitely. Arsenault was most recently a Moncton-based priest at Saint Augustine’s Church and St. Michael’s Church. He was removed from ministry as of July 4, and retired that same month.

Irois Després was also removed from any ministry. Though he retired in 1992, retired priests can still perform duties, so the suspension will prevent that from happening.

The news release states the Archdiocese of Moncton removed the two Diocesan priests “from any ministry whatsoever following allegations of serious sexual abuse on minors on their part.”

Former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Michel Bastarache brought the allegations to the attention of the archdiocese, while maintaining the confidentiality of those who came forward to make complaints. The allegations were made to Bastarache during the archdiocese’s independent reconciliation and compensation process for victims of sexual abuse.

It is not known if the RCMP is investigating any allegations at this time.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Simon said a decrease in membership in the Roman Catholic Church cannot solely be blamed on issues of sexual abuse against children.

“That would be simplifying it,” he said, adding there are other reasons for a declining membership and other religions have seen decreases in their membership as well.

But he said this is at the forefront of the types of issues that have eroded public trust beginning with its own membership and society at large.

“They have to look at the accumulating evidence that perhaps their policy of hide and duck is not serving their overall interests all that well.”

Simon said looking at situations such as this from a clinical point of view, any organization going through a leadership crisis and a crisis in public confidence will look at all its options to deal with it.

“They have to examine their options and there are several options available. I guess I would have to say there are other options to the Roman Catholic Church that they have not pursued.

“Over the past 20 to 30 years almost every diocese in Canada and the United States has dealt with allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy and have been struggling with how to address these issues.”

He said while there were pros and cons to dealing with the issues through the courts or in some other forum that would allow the public to hear, debate and discuss it, at least the issue was out in the public and not being kept secret.

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