Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 6, 2002
Zero tolerance policy already in archdiocese
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
While the U.S. Church is just beginning to develop a policy to deal with sexual abuse by priests, the Edmonton Archdiocese and indeed the Canadian Church has had a zero tolerance policy in place for about a decade now.
And Archbishop Thomas Collins says the recent allegations in the United States reinforce the Church's determination to enforce that policy.
"Our policy is that if a person is guilty of any kind of sexual abuse of a minor, he will be permanently removed from ministry," he said April 30.
And "permanently" means "forever," he said, because the Church now knows pedophiles cannot be cured.
"Our policy on child sexual abuse is very, very strict," Msgr. William Irwin, chair of the 10-member archdiocesan sexual abuse committee, said.
"We don't call it zero tolerance, but in fact, it has been zero tolerance from the start. As soon as an allegation is made, we remove the priest."
At a recent summit with Vatican officials, U.S. Church leaders outlined a national policy to deal with priest-offenders that calls for the dismissal of priests from the priesthood who are notorious sex offenders and for an apostolic visitation of seminaries.
The proposed policy, which has yet to receive Vatican approval, comes on the heels of allegations against several priests in the Boston area and other U.S. dioceses.
When the Canadian Church faced a similar spat of allegations in Newfoundland and then in Alberta more than a decade ago, the Canadian bishops developed national guidelines to deal with abuse and encouraged dioceses to do the same.
The Edmonton Archdiocese set up a sexual abuse committee in 1990 and unveiled guidelines in 1991, thus becoming the first Canadian diocese to do so.
The guidelines, which reflect the existing laws of Alberta and Canada, outline detailed procedures for the archdiocese to follow when allegations are made against priests or religious.
They include immediate assessment of complaints, a prompt offer of support and counselling to victims and their families and full cooperation with civil authorities.
"If a credible allegation of the sexual abuse of a minor is received, the alleged offender will be removed from ministry while the matter is investigated," Collins said. "
"And if the allegation is verified, the offender will be removed from ministry permanently. And then we also seek to help anyone who has been harmed (by the abuse)."
Collins said in the last 50 years, the period being examined in the U.S., "there were all kinds of mistakes of judgment made by (Church) authorities, especially relating to cases of sending priests back into ministry when they were pedophiles."
He said although therapy can help a pedophile, it cannot cure his disease, and the Church today cannot in any way justify sending him back into ministry.
"We know now that people put back into ministry have offended again and so it's very clear that it cannot be done."
Collins said events in the U.S. must serve "as an occasion for us to look again at other policies in other places to see if ours can be improved.
"I think we have to be constantly improving our policies as we learn of new insights that will be helpful."
Irwin said the allegations in the U.S. have dealt a big blow to the reputation of the priesthood. "Now all the priests there are suspect and that's unfortunate," he lamented.