Sept. 25, 2019
By Nicole Thompson
A group of survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has called for Canadian bishops to follow in the footsteps of some American counterparts and release the names of clergy facing credible misconduct allegations.
The survivors — connected by their shared experience rather than an umbrella organization — have travelled to the site of this week’s annual meeting of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in Cornwall, Ont., to ask church officials to publicize the names. Thus far, the bishops have pushed back.
“In any other institution, if you’re protecting people who have offended, who have broken the law, nobody would stand for that. But it seems like, because they’re hiding behind the guise of the church, they’re not being challenged in this way,” said Gemma Hickey, whose own abuse case against a priest was settled outside of court.
“It’s not up to survivors to come forward to release the names. It’s up to the institutions that have harmed us.”
Hickey, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, is part of a group that met with seven bishops on Sunday to discuss their experiences and make their demands. Hickey said the survivors called on the bishops to come forward with the names of clergy members credibly accused of abuse, meaning cases backed up by documentation such as bills from therapists and settlement agreements. They’d also like to see the nature of those allegations released, along with a description of the church’s response.
Hickey is the founder of the Pathways foundation, but other survivors are affiliated with groups such as Ending Clergy Abuse and SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Some of the other survivors in attendance at the Cornwall meeting had also brought their cases to court, or settled outside of it, they said.
“It’s pretty incredible to have that network now,” Hickey said. “Being sexually abused by a priest is even that much more isolating, because when you talk about confidentiality agreements and a culture of secrecy within the church, these types of things also affect people’s mental health.”
Hickey said the group is working to convince the bishops to centre abuse on their agenda.
“We were told that the issue of clergy sexual abuse wasn’t necessarily the focus of the plenary assembly,” Hickey said. “We’re trying to make it the focus. We feel this is the most important issue facing the church right now. It’s a global crisis.”
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