The Southdown Institute mental health treatment centre missed a chance to explain what its mission is when it didn’t respond to accusations that priests who had sexually assaulted children were sent there as part of a coverup scheme by the Catholic Church, says the institute’s new president.
Attention last August focused on the 53-year-old centre, which operated in Aurora before moving in 2013 to Holland Landing just north of Newmarket, after the release of an explosive Pennsylvania grand jury report.
Of 300-plus priests who had sexually abused boys and girls in that state over decades, the grand jury identified seven predators sent to Southdown for treatment rather than facing criminal charges.
A Southdown spokesperson declined to discuss the revelation then.
However, on Feb. 1, the centre welcomed new president and chief psychologist, Father Stephan Kappler, who believes Southdown missed an opportunity to respond to the accusations and explain its mission to the community.
The priest and Dr. Eran Talitman, a psychologist with Southdown for 20 years, sat down for a far-ranging interview, including accusations the centre “laundered” offending priests before the church reassigned them to unsuspecting parishes and concerns abusive clergy were tested out in local churches before going on to unknowing congregations.
Both men said they are upset thinking the community might fear Southdown and its clients.Only a “very small percentage” of clients are referred to Southdown for sexual misconduct, with the majority treated for mental health issues such as depression, substance abuse and struggles with interpersonal relationships, Talitman said.
Although the centre treats people of the cloth, mostly Catholic but also from other Christian denominations, it is an accredited organization independent from the church, Kappler said.
Licensed staff are mandated to report disclosures of recent, current or threats of future sexual assault to the Children’s Aid Society and police, he said.
That means clients at Southdown for sexual assault have already had their offences reported and adjudicated, Kappler said.
While the church once turned a blind eye to sexual abuse by clergy, a “tectonic” change in culture means it now follows reporting protocols and “99 per cent” of offending priests are now removed from ministry, Kappler said.
“That time period when people may have looked the other way is over,” he said, although victims would clearly disagree the church has adequately responded to the sex abuse crisis.
Kappler knows the church was forced to change following media reports of widespread sexual assaults by clergy.
“The other thing that has changed is, I would say, there is zero tolerance,” he added.
“As a priest, it makes you sick this is happening in the priesthood by somebody who was entrusted to care for a child. Clearly, it makes your stomach turn. It makes you angry, it makes me angry. We (Southdown) are trying to be part of the solution to that, not the problem.”
Sex offenders are assessed on a number of psychological factors such as whether they take responsibility for the abuse they inflicted, said Talitman, adding they are often stunted in their psychological, emotional and sexual development.
A letter from Southdown assessing priests’ likelihood to reoffend is sent to clients’ diocese and church leadership, he said.
Talitman acknowledged the church likely ignored past warnings of predator priests.
“That’s the early days, definitely the early days. They’ve come a long way to take it much more seriously,” he said.
“But you’re right, if bishops or leadership ignored that, that’s on them. I hate to say that but that’s really on them. You can look at it many different ways. For me, a comfort is that is not happening today. That situation, that scenario just doesn’t occur today because the parameters have changed. There are no loop holes.”
Talitman understands people are “very shocked, hurt, angry and feeling sickened” about priests sexually abusing children.
But he stressed Southdown and its clients are not a danger to the community because he has a duty to report to authorities a client he suspects will harm the public.
“What the public needs to understand is if we have anybody here who we think is at risk to harm anybody in the public, they stay on the grounds, they don’t go out,” he said.
A grandfather who lives across the road, Paul Forbes, said the centre and its clients have been “good neighbours” who generally stick to themselves.
In the wake of a historic Vatican sex abuse summit in February, Kappler shares critics’ concerns Pope Francis failed to adopt concrete solutions to the crisis.
But he’s pleased the church continues to take strides forward in addressing “disgusting” sexual abuse.
“It’s painful but it has to be talked about. Because we’re only as unhealthy as our secrets,” he said.
I can’t tell you for certain the first time I heard about Southdown, the Ontario treatment centre where the Catholic Church has sent troubled priests for decades.
I can tell you that it was most likely in the mid-1980s, when a series of Roman Catholic priests were facing criminal sexual abuse charges in Newfoundland.
Southdown Treatment Centre is north of Toronto, and specializes in helping clergy.
As the centre says on its website, “Since those first tentative days, thousands have found relief from their difficulties, and most have returned to active ministry. Southdown’s programs and treatment services continue to evolve in order to remain flexible and responsive to changing needs of those committed to ministry.”
Some are dealing with alcoholism and substance abuse, others with depression. And some are treated for their sexual abuse of children.
Southdown was in the news again this week, when, as part of the disclosures of widespread historic sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania, it was revealed that at least 11 abusing priests were sent to the facility — and that some of those priests abused youth in Canada.
Now, there’s no doubt that Southdown has helped clergy.
But that’s not why I remember the name so well. No, I remember it for something else, something that the centre itself may have had nothing to do with.
For archdioceses in Newfoundland and other Atlantic provinces, it had another role: it made problems go away.
Offending priests and brothers were moved out of the jurisdiction where the offences occurred, off to some other place where they weren’t supposed to be a problem anymore.
Except when they were.
And should the police arrive with questions about the conduct of clergy, they could be reassured that the good Father was getting treatment, that he was safely out of town and wasn’t ever coming back. Not only that, but, given that he was in the process of treatment, it wouldn’t be right or proper to interview Father Whomever about whatever kind of malfeasance he was alleged to have been involved with. Interviews with police would be difficult and problematic — and police officers would have to travel to conduct the interviews, too.
Offending priests and brothers were moved out of the jurisdiction where the offences occurred, off to some other place where they weren’t supposed to be a problem anymore.
That model led to findings like this by the Winter Commission into the Sexual Abuse of Children by Members of the Clergy in Newfoundland in 1990: “Priest X was sent to Southdown. Following his return he was assigned to a rural parish as parish priest, but there is no evidence that his conduct was effectively monitored either by the Archdiocese or by Southdown. This kind of post-treatment monitoring was not considered.”
Other clergy came from as far away as Australia, where a commission into sexual abuse by clergy was told, “In the late 1980s and 1990s, it was the practice of the Sydney Province to send members of the Order who had acknowledged allegations of abuse against them to specialist treatment centres in the United States of America (St. Luke Institute at Maryland) and in Canada (Southdown Institute, which used to be at Aurora, Ont.).”
For plenty of people, reporters and journalists among them, the role of Southdown in the overarching scandals of the Catholic Church is brand new.
For me, hearing that name is old, old news.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said this about the church hierarchy in a news conference last Tuesday: “They protected their institution at all costs. As the grand jury found, the church showed a complete disdain for victims. … The coverup was sophisticated. And all the while, shockingly, church leadership kept records of the abuse and the cover-up.”
Surprising? Not at all.
All that is old is new again.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.
Several priests accused in an American grand jury report of preying on children for years were treated or assessed at a facility north of Toronto that specializes in services for members of the clergy, the recently released document reveals.
The report, which said it found more than 1,000 children were molested or raped by more than 300 “predator priests” in six Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses since the 1940s, also indicated a few allegedly committed assaults while on trips to Canada.
The document released last week said a succession of bishops and other diocesan leaders shuffled abusive priests around parishes rather than reporting them to police in an effort to shield the church from bad publicity and financial liability.
At least seven priests named in the report were sent at some point to what was previously called the Southdown Treatment Centre, or Southdown Institute, located in Aurora, Ont., the document said.
“Southdown is an inpatient residential treatment facility that specializes in treating men and women in ministry,” said the report.
The facility, now called Southdown, has since moved to nearby Holland Landing. It provides 14-week inpatient mental health treatment to clergy and people otherwise involved in the church, according to its website. It also offers a continuing care program for those who’ve received inpatient treatment, as well as outpatient psychological services and “comprehensive clinical and candidate assessments.”
A spokeswoman for Southdown declined to respond to questions.
Among those who received inpatient treatment at Southdown was Rev. John S. Hoehl, who worked in several Catholic schools between 1964 and 1988, when he was stripped of his priestly duties.
He was treated at the facility for about six months starting in May 1986, the report said.
“During his treatment at Southdown, the director informed the diocese that Hoehl had admitted that he had been sexually involved with several high school students when he was headmaster at Quigley,” it said. “At the conclusion of his treatment, Southdown provided the diocese with an assessment that Hoehl, in fact, was/is a pedophile.”
Shortly thereafter, the report said, Hoehl was given a job as an educational consultant.
Another priest who went to Southdown was Rev. John P. Connor, who was arrested in 1984 on charges that he sexually abused a 14-year-old in his home while working as a theology teacher and golf coach at a prep school, the report said.
The case never went to trial after the diocese intervened and negotiated an agreement in which he admitted to the abuse and would “have the record of his arrest erased, as long as he were not re-arrested within one year,” the report said.
“The documents from Southdown indicated an assessment that because of Connor’s problem with alcohol: ‘he acts out sexually with some preference to late adolescent males,”‘ the report said. “They specifically warned against giving Connor responsibility for adolescents such as a teaching situation.”
Less than a year later, he was given “unrestricted ministry” at a new church, the report said.
“There was no warning to the parishioners of the church that he was an admitted child molester,” it said.
Michael G. Barletta, who admitted to abusing more than 25 children and young men between 1975 and 1994, also went to Southdown, the report said, adding he was treated for parts of 1994 and 1995, though the diocese listed him as being on sabbatical.
“After 1994, there are reports and documents that proved that Barletta was allowed to continue ministering to the faithful in the Diocese of Erie,” the report said.
The grand jury report also said two unnamed teens were on a retreat with Barletta in Toronto when he allegedly sexually abused them in a hotel room. It noted that he has denied any sexual misconduct with the pair, but admitted to vacationing with them in Canada.
Another priest — Robert Wolk — who ultimately pleaded guilty to four counts of “involuntary deviate sexual intercourse” and to corruption of minors was also investigated for incidents that allegedly occurred in Canada, the report said.
Yet another priest accused of sexual abuse, Theodore P. Zabowski, allegedly slept in the same bed and served alcohol to a minor while on a trip to Canada, the document added.
According to the most recent annual report posted on Southdown’s website, just over half of the 50 people treated at the facility in the 2016-2017 fiscal year were diagnosed as having mood disorders, and six per cent were diagnosed with a sexual disorder. It said mood disorders include schizophrenia, depression and anxiety, but did not include a definition for sexual disorders.
The annual report said most residents presented with more than one diagnosis.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Toronto said it sends priests to the facility periodically “to deal with a variety of issues for example depression, alcohol or other similar situations, as well as psychological assessments if needed.”
A grand jury document unsealed earlier this week reveals several Pennsylvania-based priests committed assaults in the Greater Toronto Area, while others were sent here for treatment after sexually assaulting children.
The shocking 900-page document, released on Tuesday, determined that Church leaders covered up more than 1,000 cases of child molestation since the 1940s, details hundreds of allegations and incidents in six Catholic dioceses and discusses 300 priests.
Described by Pennsylvania State Attorney General Josh Shapiro as the “largest, most comprehensive report into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church ever produced in the United States,” the report is difficult reading, filled with examples of abuse and superiors who turned a blind eye to it — and includes incidents that occurred in Canada.
For example, documents say Rev. Robert G. Wolk and multiple other priests “performed sado-masochistic acts” with altar boys. He allegedly assaulted one boy more than 200 times in Canada, Virginia, Florida and Ohio.
Rev. Theodore P. Zabowski allegedly took a child on a trip to Canada, served him alcohol and assaulted him. After the allegations, he was placed on administrative leave.
Rev. Michael Barletta was on a retreat in Toronto and brought two teens with him to a hotel room, where he assaulted them. He initially denied the accusations, but later admitted to them in a letter in 2012. At the time of the incident, Barletta was sent to Aurora-based Southdown Institute, a psychiatric rehabilitation facility that helps clergy deal with mental health issues, addictions and “sexual disorders,” from September 1994 until August 1995 on a “sabbatical.”
Southdown Institute, which has since moved to Holland Landing, is the largest Toronto connection in the report. At least seven priests accused of sexual abuse were sent to the facility, with at least one returning to work with little repercussion afterward.
Rev. John P. Connor was arrested in 1984 and charged with sexually molesting a 14-year-old. He was sent to Southdown for eight months, where his problems were blamed on alcohol.
The report states: “He acts out sexually with some preference to late adolescent males,” and specifically warned against giving Connor responsibility for adolescents.
He was eventually assigned to minister at a church in Wexford, Pa., where he was encouraged to “educate youth,” according to allegations in the report. Years later, he was sued by an alleged victim for abuse.
In the wake of the explosive revelations, the Vatican issued a statement about the release of the documents, saying “the Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors.”
Issued by Greg Burke, the director of the Holy See press office, it stated: “There are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow.”
“The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible. Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.”
“Holy Father understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers and reiterates the call to make every effort to create a safe environment for minors and vulnerable adults in the Church and in all of society.”
The report is still the subject of an ongoing legal battle, with redactions shielding the identities of some current and former clergy named in the report while the state Supreme Court weighs their arguments that its wrongful accusations against them violates their constitutional rights.
It also is expected to spark another fight by victim advocates to win changes in state law that lawmakers have resisted.
The majority of the cases in the report are too old to be prosecuted, but charges have been filed against two priests, who are accused of abusing minors.