The Catholic Church in Canada is ahead of its neighbours to the south when it comes to addressing sexual abuse by clergy, says Holy Cross Father George Mulligan.
"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," Mulligan stated.
At a May 2 workshop for Vancouver clergy, 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," Mulligan said.
The priest is a risk analyst for Praesidium Inc., a Texas company that gives training and assistance in abuse-risk management. His workshop was mandatory for all priests in the Vancouver Archdiocese.
The bishops of Canada have been involved in the prevention of the problem for over 20 years, he noted.
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 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 Michael Miller made a clear statement of action against sexual abuse in a December 2009 letter promulgating the Protecting God's Children policy.
Clear boundaries 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. As in the Edmonton Archdiocese, every parish in the Vancouver 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.
Goh said the screening policy only applies to those positions in Church ministry where workers would interact with vulnerable people.
But everyone working in the parish must sign the code of conduct, Goh said. "If the whole community knows how we should behave, and someone behaves off the radar, it's a little red flag."
Mulligan urged those at the workshop not to keep the archdiocesan policy a secret.
Although the entire priesthood was painted with the same brush after sexual abuse surfaced, transparency is the best way to rebuild trust, he said.