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Piecemeal Protections The Canadian Church Struggles to Confront Sex Abuse

Piecemeal protections Canada Commonweal

Title: Piecemeal Protections The Canadian Church Struggles to Confront Sex Abuse

Author: Michael W. Higgins

Publication: Commonweal

Date: 11FEB2020


It was early December of last year when I heard an extraordinary interview with a Canadian bishop on CBC Radio One, Canada’s premier English-speaking public broadcaster. Extraordinary, because it was thirty minutes long; extraordinary because it was on Sunday Edition, a coveted spot on the award-winning network’s flagship news roundup; and extraordinary most of all because it was a Canadian bishop being interviewed on the subject of clerical sex abuse in a way that was vigorously interrogatory without being adversarial.

Most importantly, the bishop, Thomas Dowd, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Montreal, was non-defensive, persuasively contrite, uncharacteristically spin-free and transparent in his responses, and genuinely warm and nonjudgmental in his pastoral approach.

Dowd was on air because of the controversy surrounding the allegations, trial, and sentencing of Brian Boucher, a priest-abuser of long standing. Dowd had listened to Boucher’s accusers, believed them, advocated on their behalf, and daily attended Boucher’s trial in order to be with them, the survivors.

It was clear we had crossed a national threshold: a Canadian bishop talking on a secular network about clerical sex abuse in a manner that was as credible as it was humble. And none too soon.

Throughout 2019 the Canadian Catholic Church was rocked by a series of disclosures and investigations that reopened the wounds of clerical sex abuse. In addition to the Boucher trial in Montreal, TVOntario, the provincial public-television broadcaster, aired Prey, a documentary on Basilian priest Hod Marshall, the serial abuser of seventeen minors over a teaching span of thirty-two years in three Ontario cities—Sudbury, Windsor, and Toronto. Oversight by the Congregation of St. Basil was deficient, the legal strategies bereft of a Gospel-inspired justice, the end result demoralizing for all. Marshall confessed prior to his death in 2014 at ninety-two, but the legal wrangling and protracted default maneuvers lingered without a satisfying resolution. Hence, the scorching effect of the documentary.

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