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Posts Tagged ‘Roman Catholic’

The Diocese of Antigonish

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

October 11, 2009

This is the column I’ve been dodging for a decade. This is the column about the Diocese of Antigonish.

I’m not a Roman Catholic, and never have been. But I’ve spent most of my adult life in Cape Breton, which is part of the Diocese of Antigonish, and I have a longer and deeper relationship with the Catholic Church there than with any other religious organization. I have some treasured friendships with its priests. I have great respect and affection for the clerics and Catholic lay leaders I’ve worked with in voluntary organizations and at Cape Breton University. I revere the memory of priests like Coady, Tompkins and their successors, the populist priests who spread the co-operative movement throughout the region.

But in recent years the Diocese itself has behaved disgracefully, and it needs to be held accountable.

I remember the day after three priests who had served in our own parish were charged with sexual abuse. One was innocent. Two were guilty, and I knew a few of their victims. The day they were charged, I had a visit from the priest then serving the parish. Perhaps he came to see me because I was, broadly speaking, a member of his flock, but not a Catholic. He felt heartsick, betrayed, abandoned, barely able to face his parishioners, aghast to think what they might be speculating about him. My heart ached for him then. It aches for him now.

But my friend was particularly shattered because of something he had heard that day from a parishioner. The man had tried to comfort him by saying, “Don’t worry about it, Father. It’s nothin’ new.”

“It’s nothing new?” my friend cried out in anguish. “It’s nothing new? What’s been going on here, and for how long?”

So this is what I have to say about the Diocese of Antigonish. Pedophilia in the diocese is nothing new. It’s been going on for a long time. I can no longer listen silently to the argument that we’re all fallible, that we must forgive sinners just as Christ did, that lots of other people abuse children, that every barrel has a few bad apples. That’s all true, but there’s a point that is always missed. The Diocese of Antigonish may be a barrel that holds a few bad apples — but the diocesan barrel itself is rotten, too.

When the Mount Cashel scandal broke, then-Bishop Colin Campbell advanced the contemptible suggestion that the victimized boys had actually seduced the clerics. Through its lawyers, the Diocese has denied that it knew, or ought to have known, about the pedophiles in its own ranks. Really? At its peak, the Diocese employed about 250 priests; it has about half that number today. It is casuistry to contend that in so small a community, with a pattern of sexual abuse stretching back for generations and occurring from one end of the Diocese to the other, nobody in authority ever suspected anything.

Successive Bishops apparently covered up for the pedophiles, did not discharge them, and never reported their criminal offences to the civil authorities. Instead, the Diocese fought the victims in court, arguing that it had not given its priests authority to break the laws of God and Canada. The Diocese even claimed that it was not responsible for what its priests did “after working hours.”

As the years passed, and one sexual abuse case succeeded another, I kept waiting for the Diocese to stop hiding in the courts, and start acting morally. I wanted it to say, “We’re sorry. What can we do to make amends, and to repair the damage?” But it took the Diocese nearly 20 years — and a class action lawsuit — to accept any responsibility at all for its role in the whole sordid debacle.

The behaviour of the Diocese looks to me like criminal negligence. The organization and its officers should probably be charged and tried. But at its core, the issue is much sadder than that. Priests hold unique positions of trust in the lives of Catholic children. Bishops have moral responsibilities, not just legal ones. They will have no lawyers with them when they stand before their God. What are they going to say then?

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