May16, 2016
LORRAINE TURCHANSKY
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

Parishioners at Our Lady of Angels Parish in Fort Saskatchewan were shocked and saddened to learn their associate pastor had been suspended from ministry and then sent back to his religious community in India.

However, Archbishop Richard Smith says the decision to remove Father Ashok Mascarenhas underlines the commitment of the archdiocese to safe environments and its zero tolerance policy toward abuse of any kind.

"I want to take this opportunity to assure all staff, clergy and parishioners that the archdiocese takes any allegations of abuse very seriously," Smith said.

"We are committed to ensuring that any archdiocesan employee, priest or lay volunteer who offends against children or other vulnerable persons is promptly removed from ministry, that any offences are immediately reported to civil authorities, and that victims receive an apology, compassion and assistance in recovering from any harm they have suffered, including compensation where appropriate."

Fort Saskatchewan RCMP informed the archdiocese in March that they were investigating a complaint by a minor against Mascarenhas, and also that they had received a complaint from an adult against the same priest a year earlier, which resulted in no criminal charges.

Parishioners were told at the March 19-20 Masses that in accordance with archdiocesan policy, Mascarenhas would be withdrawn from ministry while the police investigation proceeded.

Parishioners were then advised over the April 9-10 weekend that the RCMP investigation had concluded, and that no criminal charges would be laid.

"Nevertheless, the archbishop has determined that there was not full adherence to the code of ministerial conduct expected of all ministers of the Gospel," they were told.

RETURNED TO INDIA

"For this reason, the decision to remove Father Ashok from priestly ministry in the Archdiocese of Edmonton remains in effect. He has returned to his native India, where he is under the care of his religious community."

Mascarenhas is a member of the Society of Catholic Apostolate, also known as the Pallottine Fathers. He was ordained in 2012 and began serving at Fort Saskatchewan in August 2013.

The archbishop said he has informed the Pallotine superior in India of the reason for the priest's departure from the archdiocese.

"News like this is understandably distressing," the archbishop said. "But we cannot run or hide from these things. They need to be squarely faced with the Gospel principles of healing, truth, light and repentance."

ACTED QUICKLY

Smith said he acted as quickly as possible in this case. He noted that the archdiocese had not been informed about the 2015 complaint to the RCMP.

The archdiocese has comprehensive policies dealing with prevention, reporting, and investigation of abuse reports, which are posted online at caedm.ca/protect.

To date, an estimated 10,000 priests, seminarians, employees, and lay parishioners have taken the Called To Protect training in abuse prevention.

A confidential means of reporting abuse has been set up through a special email account on the website and a toll-free phone number 877-770-6777.