Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 59: Church Apologies and Reconciliation (58-61)

Jesuits of Canada reveals list of clerics credibly accused of sexual abuse

March 13, 2023

The Globe and Mail: The Jesuits of Canada, a religious order of the Catholic Church, has published the names of 27 priests and brothers who it says have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors, one of the few Catholic entities in the country to release such a list.

The release, based on a review of thousands of documents dating back to the early 1950s, includes the names of Jesuits and where they were assigned. Although 24 of the men are dead, the three who are still alive are in their 80s and 90s, reside in a Jesuit infirmary and are no longer actively working in public, says Father Erik Oland, leader of the order in Canada. He said they have no access to children and are monitored by a designated supervisor.

The Globe and Mail is not naming the three men because it has not independently verified the allegations against them. Many survivors and advocacy groups have for years called for the names of abusers to be published as part of a push for greater transparency from the church. Unlike in the U.S., few Catholic orders or dioceses in Canada have published complete lists of clergy with credible accusations.

The goal behind publishing the list is “transparency and accountability, hopefully leading to healing and reconciliation,” Father Oland, the provincial – or leader – of the Jesuits of Canada, told The Globe in an interview. He said the order wants to be pro-active in disclosing this information. The Jesuits first announced plans to publish a list in 2019, with a target release date by January, 2021. It was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the order said in a press release, which caused the shutdown of the provincial archives of Montreal.

Sixteen of the men are alleged to have abused multiple children, while the other 11 faced allegations of abusing a single victim, the document states. In some cases, the allegations were never tried criminally or civilly, but rather were dealt with internally by the order.

The order defines “credibly accused” as cases where allegations appear more likely than not that an offence occurred. This includes cases “where a Jesuit was accused by credible witnesses, parishioners, civil authorities or clergy, even if no charges or civil actions were ever forthcoming.” In many cases, it said, the sworn evidence of victims in the transcripts of civil lawsuits were considered “valuable evidence.”

In 2019, the Vancouver archdiocese published a list of abusers in the area going back nearly 70 years, though it used more restrictive criteria, such as convictions and legal settlements, to determine who it would identify. The list, which was the first of its kind in Canada, named nine men.

Six of the Jesuits named in the list published on Monday worked in residential schools. The list includes George Epoch, a priest who was reported to have abused more than 100 children, including in several Indigenous communities. He died in 1986.

Father Oland said the Jesuits believe they are the first Catholic religious order in Canada to publish such a list. Few other entities have made this information public, even after a wave of such disclosures in the United States and other countries, and growing pressure in Canada to do so.

The Catholic diocese of London, Ont., confirmed a list of 36 names was “substantially correct” – after survivors published it themselves in 2019 – and added four more names to the list.

Saskatoon’s diocese said in 2021 a committee found seven priests and two laypersons who were alleged to have committed serious misconduct or abuse, along with two “nonhistorical” cases that were still under review. Five of the men in these cases were named.

In northern Ontario, a recent investigation by Radio-Canada’s Enquête found 12 priests and volunteers who allegedly abused about 40 people, most of whom were minors at the time, in the Hearst-Moosonee diocese between the 1950s and the 2010s.

Another religious order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, told The Globe it is “actively reviewing” how other religious entities have approached such disclosures, and is considering changes that balance the need for transparency with respect for victims’ right to privacy.

In the U.S., many more names of alleged abusers have come to light. As of 2020, the names of 6,770 credibly accused clergy had been released, according to a ProPublica investigation. They were released by 178 dioceses and orders, either voluntarily or because they were compelled to by courts.

In France, an independent commission – established by the French bishops – said in 2021 that the church had had an estimated 3,000 sexual abusers of children over the past 70 years.

This type of broad investigation into the scope of clergy abuse has yet to occur in Canada. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops did not respond to questions on whether it plans to establish this kind of independent commission.

Leona Huggins, a client support and research specialist for KazLaw Personal Injury Lawyers, which represents victims of sexual abuse, said that by publishing names, the systemic nature of the problem is revealed. “We get to see how people were moved around. So we can change the organization as it stands today,” she said. “And there’s also the personal part for each survivor: to recognize that they’re not alone,” said Ms. Huggins, who was abused by a Vancouver priest as a child.

The Jesuits of Canada review was conducted by a team that included one Jesuit delegate and non-Jesuit staff, working with independent investigator Brian King of King International Advisory Group. The documents reviewed by the investigators include personnel records and correspondence with superiors, along with historical litigation in Toronto, as well as French-Canadian records in Montreal.

It is possible more names will surface, the order said, so the list may be added to or changed in the future as more information comes to light. Currently, “we have not knowingly held back any names,” said Father Oland. To date, the Jesuits of Canada have paid about $7.5-million in out-of-court settlements to victims, he said.

In a letter to the public, Father Oland acknowledged the church has been slow to respond in the past to revelations of clergy abuse. “Moving through phases of outright denial, victim blaming, and moral incompetence, the church has begun to respond justly,” he said.

The Jesuits of Canada have apologized in the past to victims of abuse and did so again in these disclosures. There are currently 208 priests and brothers who are part of the Jesuits of Canada.