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Canada praised for responding, being transparent

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'Protecting God's Children' screening process keeps offenders out of Church ministries
By Agnieszka KrawczynskiFather George Mulligan, CSC (left), speaks about sexual abuse and how the Church approaches the issue in a seminar mandatory for all priests in the Vancouver archdiocese. Agnieszka Krawczynski / The B.C. Catholic.
The B.C. Catholic

The Catholic Church in Canada is ahead of its neighbours to the south when it comes to addressing sexual abuse by clergy, according to Father George Mulligan, CSC.

The New York priest spoke at a workshop for clergy at St. Patrick's Church in Vancouver May 2.

"I say this with humility and embarrassment: the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) did more than U.S. bishops did prior to the crisis," Father Mulligan began.

He praised the Church in Canada for treating the issue with appropriate seriousness and transparency.

"What the Canadian Church has done from day one is be transparent, respond, enter into conversation, and tell its leadership at every level what was going on," Father Mulligan stated.

The priest is a risk analyst for Praesidium Inc., a Texas company that gives training and assistance in abuse-risk management. He led the workshop, which was mandatory for all priests in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

The bishops of Canada have been involved in the prevention of the problem for over 20 years, he noted.

"We want to do our collective best to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our children and adults," said Dan Moric, the archbishop's delegate for administration. He added the workshop is part of the archbishop's plan to be proactive regarding the safety of the vulnerable.

A key resource from the CCCB, titled From Pain to Hope, was published in 1992. That document provides 50 recommendations for care for victims and abusers, as well as preventive actions for priests, seminarians, and laity.

"The bishops did a good job of understanding what the problem was and doing something about it," said Father Mulligan. "If you have not reread it, reread it with today's eyes," he urged the 120 priests present.

Various revisions and additional documents have been written since then. The CCCB's Orientations for Diocesan Sexual Abuse Protocols of 2007 acts as a supplement to From Pain to Hope.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, made a clear statement of action against sexual abuse in a December 2009 letter promulgating the "Protecting God's Children" policy.

Clear boundaries, he wrote, had to be in place to ensure the protection "especially of our young people and vulnerable adults."

The archdiocesan screening policy involves a code of conduct, reference checks, police record checks, and training. Every parish in the archdiocese has a screening coordinator who collects the information and passes forms on to the pastor to sign.

"Abuse can happen when there's a relationship, when someone starts to trust you," explained Sharon Goh, coordinator for "Protecting God's Children," the archdiocesan office responsible for creating, maintaining, and promoting a safe Church environment. She said the screening policy only applies to those positions in Church ministry where workers would interact with vulnerable people.

"Protecting God's Children" considers ages of participants, setting, nature of activity, level of supervision, and nature of relationship when judging risk. For example, a PREP teacher who gives one-on-one instruction to youth is a higher risk than a custodian at a large children's event.

But everyone working in the parish must sign the code of conduct. "It is like an alarm system," Goh said. "If the whole community knows how we should behave, and someone behaves off the radar, it's a little red flag. So at this point, it is all about being instructive, by helping them understand and respect the policy."

"Despite the additional administrative burden associated with implementing such a policy, the clear protective benefits to children and vulnerable adults are irrefutable," added Moric.

"It is to protect them, and protect our Church," Goh said.

The archdiocese has policies in place for what happens after abuse is alleged. Reported abuse by a clergy member is handled by Chancellor Father Bruce McAllister, while reported abuse by a religious, lay employee, or volunteer is handled by Chuck Luttrell. Both are archbishop's delegates. The police are contacted.

An advisory committee would conduct an investigation separate from any police investigation. During that time, the alleged abuser would be removed from work. Psychological and emotional help would be made available for the victim.

If the allegation were found false, the person who had been accused would be reinstated and steps would be taken to help rebuild their reputation. If the allegation were true, the abuser would be subject to sentencing by the courts.

Goh said the Church can allow offenders back to a Church environment and support them, under certain conditions. "They're less likely to offend when they're cared for," she said.

"If they are not supported, and you leave them alone out there, they may offend again."

But the abuser is not allowed to work with children again.

"The Canadian understanding of abuse is gathered from all parts of human interactions, and it has an understanding of who the human person is: physical, intellectual, psychological," affirmed Father Mulligan.

The U.S. priest urged those in attendance not to keep the archdiocesan policy a secret.

Although the entire priesthood was painted with the same brush after sexual abuse surfaced in major media, he said, transparency is the best way to rebuild trust.

From Pain to Hope, the 2007 protocols, and other resources can be found at www.rcav.org/pgc.

Last Updated on Monday, 10 June 2013 07:15  

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