Editorial: Diocese silence on sexual abuse must end

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Ottawa Citizen Editorial Board

Published on: May 17, 2016 | Last Updated: May 17, 2016 5:56 PM EDT


The act of penance, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, requires “the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practise complete humility and fruitful satisfaction.” It is abhorrent to read these words while learning new details of the abuse of young people in Ottawa by Catholic priests.

Contrition and confession. Both appear in short supply, based on Citizen reporter Andrew Duffy’s findings about the Archdiocese of Ottawa suing its insurance companies over the costs of lawsuits from victims of sexual abuse. Based on Duffy’s scouring of court records and the online database Sylvia’s Site, there have been at least 41 victims in the Ottawa diocese. The archdiocese won’t provide an exact number.

Sadly, the abuse of children by priests is not news in Ottawa: The scandal began to surface in the mid-1980s.

But the archdiocese has declined to answer a number of detailed questions put to it in writing last week by the Citizen. There may be more victims; we know only of those for whom there is a legal paper trail. And how many priests were involved? Silence from the church, though the Citizen’s analysis counts at least 11. So much for confession.

One priest has spoken, at least. Rev. Barry McGrory admitted to assaulting two girls and one boy at Ottawa’s Holy Cross Parish. He says then-archbishop Joseph-Aurèle Plourde (now deceased) knew about it, but that instead of being treated – or imprisoned – he, McGrory, was moved to Toronto, where four years later he was charged with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old boy.

How, considering the scale of the sins, does the church feel it can maintain its silence? Proverbs 28:13 sums up what it actually should do: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

Well then, what of contrition? If this is measured in money for victims, the diocese is remorseful: More than $1 million has been paid out that we know of. But the church wants much of it back, evidenced by the lawsuits against its insurance companies seeking coverage for the payouts.

What else do Canadians, and Ottawans, not yet know about individual priests or the church’s behaviour? It’s not surprising that new information continues to trickle forth about this dark chapter. What is surprising is that church leaders are still so unwilling to come clean. In contrast to its American counterpart, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has not released full details on numbers of victims or compensation paid.

If the church truly is penitent, that must change.

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