Prestige of clergy helped hide abuse
Local News - Friday, August 31, 2007 @ 08:00
The prestige bestowed upon a priest once contributed to a culture ofsilence surrounding child sexual abuse, the Cornwall Public Inquiryheard Thursday.
Rev. Tom Doyle said parents and other community members werenot only willing to hand over children to the care of priests but werereluctant to believe allegations the very same clergy members weresometimes sexual predators.
"It was a privilege to be with these priests," said Doyle. "It was a privilege to have a priest in your home.
"It was okay if your child slept in the same bed with the Father. It certainly wouldn't be okay if he was the janitor."
Doyle said families, particularly mothers and fathers,struggled to reconcile their faith with the fact this trusted man hadabused their children.
He said victims were often ostracized by church officials and families would often feel abandoned by their spiritual leaders.
"Church officials would often treat victims as the enemy," said Doyle.
"The child should be the most important concern, not the reputation of an institution or its priests."
Doyle also said a personal apology from the perpetrator of sexual abuse is invaluable to the healing process for a victim.
"A personal apology is extremely important, if it's sincere," said Doyle.
"Of course, most men and women can tell right away if it's not sincere."
Doyle said victims didn't usually respond to generalized apologies issued by church officials.
"An individual apology is certainly warranted," he said, "because the abuse was individual."
Doyle said it's been his practice when counselling sexualabuse victims and their families to offer an apology for the abuse atthe start of treatment.
"Once we've established a level of trust, I get them aloneand I apologize to them for what has happened to them at the hands of apriest and for the way they were treated by the church," said Doyle."Many people have said, 'If only that happened at the beginning . . .'"
In 1992, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops receiveda report on child sexual abuse by clergy members called From Pain toHope. The report contained recommendations as to how church officialscould better respond to allegations of abuse in the future.
Doyle said while he appreciated the work done by thecommittee which delivered the report, recommendations must be put intopractice in order for the document to have any value.
"It is beautifully written," he said. "The problem is follow-through."
The 1992 document has been much more widely received and adhered to than others which preceded it.
In 1962, the Vatican issued a directive dealing with the sameissue, although church officials have said the document is not believedto have been received by many bishops and the recommendations rarelyfollowed.
In that document, it was decreed all parties involved ininternal investigations of abuse allegations, including victims, weresworn to secrecy forever on the matter.
"What would have happened if, six months after the process,a victim went to the police?" asked Rob Talach, an attorney for TheVictims Group.
"The bishop would have had the option of imposingex-communication on the victim, and if it was publicly declared, hecould refuse the right of communion and refuse to marry that person inthe church," said Doyle. "But I've never heard where that has happenedin any of these cases."
Doyle said victims and their families almost always have tocome to terms with not only the abuse but the loss of their faith inthe church, often due to the actions, or inactions, of churchofficials. "They said, 'When the bishop treated us like dirt, it tookGod away,'" said Doyle. "When I'm meeting with them, I try to relate tothem on a human level as Christ would have done. That's the mostimportant thing."
The inquiry will resume Sept. 10.
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.Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia