Current Problems

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

Survivors applaud move by the Jesuits to publish names of abusers

March 14, 2023
Gemma Hickey, an advocate and survivor of abuse by a Roman Catholic priest, says this type of effort should be under way across the country and that it is ‘a matter of public safety.’BLAIR GABLE/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The Globe and Mail: The decision by the Jesuits of Canada to publish a list of priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children has been praised by survivors, many of whom have called on more Catholic entities to follow suit.

In interviews with The Globe and Mail, several survivors said publishing these names helps shine a light on where the priests worked and when. They also said the listprovides validation to victims that they’re not alone and helps reveal the scope of the problem.

On Monday, the Jesuits of Canada, a religious order of the Catholic Church, publishedthe names of 27 priests and brothers who it says have been credibly accused of abusing minors. It is believed to be the most comprehensive effort by a religious order in Canada. Some dioceses have released partial lists; in those cases, the abusers had already been convicted or publicly named.

For Gemma Hickey, an advocate and survivor of abuse by a Roman Catholic priest, this type of effort should be under way across the country. “This is a matter of public safety,” said Mx. Hickey, co-founder of Advocates for Clergy Trauma Survivors in Canada (ACTS), who is based in St. John’s. “In places where there are no lists, children and vulnerable adults are at risk.”

Groups representing clergy-abuse survivors have been lobbying the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and dioceses since 2019 to release names. “But due to the culture of secrecy within the church and the lack of willingness to co-operate, we may never know the full extent of harm caused,” Mx. Hickey said.

More insights into the scale of the problem are surfacing in other countries. In the U.S., a wave of dioceses has released the names of credibly accused priests and clergy members, many because they were compelled by courts.

In Portugal, an independent commission said last month there are more than 100 priests suspected of child sexual abuse who remain active in church roles. France too had an independent commission, which has said the church had an estimated 3,000 abusers of children over 70 years.

The Globe asked the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops whether there are any similar initiatives planned in this country relating to clergy abuse. “CCCB members in plenary have not discussed the independent commission set up in France or a similar version for Canada,” Father Jean Vézina, general secretary, said in an e-mail.

Rob Talach, a London, Ont.-based lawyer who has worked on more than 450 sex-abuse-related cases, supported the Jesuits’ move to publish names. “A shoutout to the Jesuits,” for undertaking this type of audit and making public the level of detail that they did, he said.

Releasing these lists is important, he says, as it sends a message to victims that they needn’t suffer in silence, and that they will be believed. It also helps demonstrate to the church and the public “that this isn’t just one or two folks,” and that this is a bigger, systemic problem, he says.

This type of disclosure is “good for the individual healing of the survivors,” he says, and, at the broader level, makes it more difficult for church leaders to deny the scope of the problem.

Still, he cautioned, lists like these often “look light” and may not reflect the full scale of the numbers, he added. “When a diocese puts out a list, and I’ve seen them, and I’m like, ‘Hey, this guy’s not on it. This guy’s not on it.’ I always worry that they’re just too conservative in their criteria.”

One survivor, who was abused at age 13 by a Jesuit priest while attending Loyola High School in Montreal in the late 1950s, said he was puzzled and disappointed not to see the name of the priest who abused him on the list released on Monday, given that it was widely known he was abusing students. The Jesuits have said the list is a “living document” and will be updated or added to as more information comes to light.

The person supports these types of investigations and publishing them, saying it will help prevent this from happening again.

The Globe does not identify victims of sexual assault without their consent.

Another survivor, who was abused by a priest at age 10 in Calgary in the early 1960s, said he wants to see more names released. Doing so, he said, helps validate people’s experiences, clarify who is responsible for the abuse and compile historical information on, for example, whether a priest was transferred from one parish to another.

Gemma Hickey, in St. John’s, says the onus is on the institution to disclose names, not survivors. “Until the Catholic Church takes full responsibility for the pain and suffering it has caused – and continues to cause – by protecting predator priests, the legacy of harm will continue.”