Clergy abuse victim furious over diocesan ‘stonewalling’

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Ottawa Citizen

A woman scarred by clergy sex abuse is furious that the Archdiocese of Ottawa will not tell her if or when it will seek to defrock the Catholic priest who preyed upon her as a young teenager.

Colleen Passard said she’s being “stonewalled” by the diocese in her attempts to obtain information about the status of the review of Rev. Barry McGrory. That review is the first step in the laicization process described by Canon Law, the governing code of the Catholic Church.

“Failure to strip a sexual predator of the sacred covenant of the priesthood is a collusion with darkness,” Passard charged in a letter of complaint to the diocese, shared with the Citizen.

More than four months ago, the diocese announced that it would consider initiating the process required to have McGrory removed from the priesthood.

As part of that process, Passard met in person with Rev. Christian Riesbeck, Auxilliary Bishop of Ottawa, and prepared a victim impact statement at his request.

That statement gave a detailed account of her abuse by McGrory, and concluded with a plea to church officials: “I urge you on behalf of myself, all of McGrory’s victims, and all good priests, to laicize Father Barry McGrory. It is the most merciful and compassionate action you can take. Every day that McGrory remains a priest is a shameless hypocrisy — and a mockery of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.”

According to Passard, who taped her meeting with the bishop, Riesbeck said removing McGrory from the priesthood was a top priority for the diocese. He reassured her, she said, that diocesan officials had plenty of material in the McGrory file, and that they wanted to get it to the Vatican “as soon as possible.”

Today, the diocese will only say that the McGrory case remains “under review.”  “There is no more information we can provide at this time until the process is completed,” a diocesan spokesman, Deacon Gilles Ouellette, told the Citizen.

Passard said she, too, has been unable to obtain any information — even a date by which the diocese expects to complete its review.

“Where is the restorative justice in that?” she asked Bishop Riesbeck in a letter addressed to him. “What happened to the diocese’s commitment and policy to support the victims of clergy abuse?”

McGrory, 82, lives in Toronto as a retired priest. In May, he admitted in an interview that he had sexually abused three young parishioners, including Passard, at Ottawa’s Holy Cross Parish in the 1970s and ’80s. He said then-archbishop Joseph-Aurèle Plourde knew he had sexual problems — that he was powerfully attracted to adolescents — but did not send him for treatment. Instead, he was appointed president of an organization that aided remote Catholic missions in Canada.

Four years after leaving Ottawa, in 1991, McGrory was charged with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old native boy, and later convicted of that crime. He was given a suspended sentence and three years’ probation.

The Archdiocese of Ottawa subsequently settled out of court with two of McGrory’s victims. (A third Ottawa victim who was abused by McGrory as a boy is now suing the diocese for $1.5 million.)

As part of her settlement with the diocese, Passard said she was assured in 1997 that McGrory had been removed from the priesthood.

But rather than being removed from the priesthood, McGrory was ordered not to present himself as a Catholic priest or perform its ministries.

But documents show that McGrory has identified himself as a Catholic priest during the past two decades. He appeared before a Queen’s Park committee to talk about poverty, and identified himself as “a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Ottawa, currently living in Toronto.” He also identified himself as a priest while writing in the Catholic New Times and Toronto Star.

Passard wants the Catholic church to live up to its own rhetoric and remove McGrory from the priesthood.

In April 2002, Pope John Paul II told a meeting of U.S. cardinals that “there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young.”

Pope John Paul II also made the sexual abuse of a minor (under the age of 18) one of the grave crimes (“delicta graviora”) to be considered by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Vatican-appointed group of cardinals, bishops and other officials.

That change removed from diocesan bishops the sole responsibility for investigating and trying — before church tribunals — priests and other clergy accused of sex crimes. Today, a bishop is responsible for launching the preliminary investigation in such a case, and for deciding if the allegations are credible enough to be forwarded to the Vatican.

Under Canon Law, cases of sexual abuse have a 20-year statute of limitations, which begins to run on the day that the victim turns 18. But in 2010, the pope said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith can depart from that restriction on a case-by-case basis.

In general, the penalties imposed by the congregation are supposed to vary with the gravity of the abuse. Dismissal from the priesthood is considered the harshest penalty, and is reserved for cases involving “serial abuse and grave public scandal,” according to a November 2011 directive issued by U.S. Cardinal William Levada.

1 Response to Clergy abuse victim furious over diocesan ‘stonewalling’

  1. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    I find it remarkable that Pope JPII stated that “there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young”.
    Why did he hide out, and promote Bernard Prince, when he knew that there was an arrest warrant out for him here in Canada? Mike.

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