Archdiocese sets guidelines for abuse cases

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The Toronto Star

18 July 1989

Michael McAteer Star religion editor

After a rash of sex abuse cases involving priests in Canada, Toronto’s Roman Catholic archidiocese has issued its priests interim procedures for handling “cases of alleged misconduct.”

The procedures provide for:

* Immediate investigation of alleged cases of abuse by priests and other archdiocesan employees.

* Methods of handling and dealing with the accused.

* Professional counselling services for the child, parents and siblings involved.

The procedures are to be refined in the coming months.

Full details will be explained to priests at two meetings in September.

Attendance at the meetings is mandatory.

“Our goal is to be accessible and responsive,” Emmett Cardinal Carter says in a letter sent to more than 900 priests in the Toronto archdiocese, which has an estimated Catholic population of between 1.2 million and 1.5 million.

In the past 18 months, the Roman Catholic Church in Canada has been shaken by a series of sex abuse scandals. Twenty one (see note above) priests, former priests and members of a religious order have been charged with abuse-related offences.

Abuse suspicions

Among them is the Rev. Angus McRae of St. Thomas More parish in Scarborough, who has been charged with the sexual exploitation of boys. McRae has been relieved of his pastoral duties.

Suspicions of child abuse by priests or other employees of the Toronto archdiocese must be reported immediately, Carter says.

“The importance of our response is not to be underestimated,” he says in the letter. “We have responsibilities of both justice and charity.”

The 1984 Child and Family Services Act places “urgent reporting obligations” on those with reasonable grounds to suspect child abuse, Carter notes.

Under that law, abuse may be physical, emotional, mental or sexual in nature.

The obligation is not only to those who are now minors but those who were minors at the time the alleged abuse occurred, Carter says.

The procedures are intended to reconcile the requirements of the church’s Code of Canon Law, the pastoral responsibilities of the church, and the obligations of individuals under the laws of Ontario and Canada.

Confession secrecy

Under the interim procedures, priests are told they must report immediately any suspicion of abuse and the information on which it is based to the Catholic Children’s Aid Society or the Children’s Aid Society.

Then the archdiocese’s judicial vicar must be told; or if the accused belongs to a religious order, the suspect’s superior must be told.

Priests are reminded that the confessional secrecy seal cannot be broken despite the requirements of civil law, although the person making the confession should be encouraged to make disclosure outside the confessional.

According to church law, it is “absolutely wrong” for a priest hearing a confession to betray in any way the penitent, whether by “word or in any other fashion.”

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