Citing pressure on archbishop, Montreal abuse commission co-chair resigns

The Catholic Register - Archdiocese of Toronto, Ontario, Canada

December 16, 2022

By Francois Gloutnay, Catholic News Service

The retired judge who has co-chaired the Montreal Archdiocese’s committee to implement abuse procedures has resigned, saying serious problems remain in the application of “regulations, policies and procedures approved by the archbishop.”

“I began my mandate as co-chair with real enthusiasm and the hope that I would be able to make important changes that would make the Catholic Church in Montreal an example of transparency and accountability to victims of abuse,” Pepita G. Capriolo wrote in her resignation letter, dated Dec. 7 and published as an appendix to the Fifth Ombudsman’s Report for the Archdiocese of Montreal. The ombudsman’s report was submitted to Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine the same day.

She said “the numerous difficulties highlighted in the ombudsman’s last reports” led to her resignation.

Two years ago, Capriolo signed an incriminatory report on the handling of Father Brian Boucher’s case by Montreal archdiocesan authorities and even Vatican officials. Her report included 31 recommendations to better the management of procedures and accountability in complaints concerning abuse. Capriolo co-chaired the implementation committee until her resignation.

Among other examples, she deplored the “inexcusable delay” before the recent removal of an episcopal vicar, given that “the archbishop and the two vicar generals had been made aware of serious faults and breach of confidentiality nearly three months earlier.” She said she was “revolted by the inadmissible treatment” by the archdiocese of an employee who worked closely with the ombudsman.

“I cannot continue to participate in a body that is subject to contradictory pressures, possibly emanating from persons and bodies who are not privy to our discussions and don’t seem to share the same vision of an open, transparent church that is concerned with the well-being of the most vulnerable people,” she said.

In a phone interview with the Montreal-based Presence info, Capriolo confirmed that her decision was quite recent.

“The main reason for my resignation is that I didn’t want to appear to condone what was being done. As long as I thought I could play a positive role and that my advice served its purpose, I stayed. I fought,” she said.

Recently, she said, she noticed “pressure exerted on the archbishop.” She said people encouraged him “not to act,” to “slow down” the pace of change, to “not do things as clearly, transparently and strongly” as he intends it.

She said it took six months for the implementation committee to write “procedures and protocols for the management of sex abuse complaints in the archdiocese and for the formation of all pastoral personnel.” All of this had been agreed to by the archbishop, “including a policy for sanctioning those disregarding what is planned” in these decrees and documents. However, “these sanctions are not applied.”

Capriolo stressed the solitude of Archbishop Lépine in all of this. “Up there, he’s very much alone. There’s an impermeable wall between the faithful and him.”

She said people stop her in the streets, write her letters and comments, to thank her “for what we are doing. They tell me it gives hope to faithful Catholics to see someone who wants change.”

“I think that if the archbishop could see through that impermeable wall and listen to the people, he would realize they support him,” she said.

She explained the pressure as “clericalism resurfacing and a fear of transparency.” Some church people say to her, “You have to understand, it’s a cultural change.” She said she recognizes such a change is necessary — but she will not accept “the slowness and dysfunctions.”

Despite her resignation, Capriolo remains optimistic. “If the archbishop is able to do what he wants, he will succeed. And I’ll tell you why: because he has the support of the people, the faithful. And if he needs me, I will always be ready to help him. But I can no longer endorse the system in place.”

Archbishop Lépine did not verbally comment the judge’s resignation. However, in the news release provided with the ombudsman’s fifth report, Archbishop Lépine said: “Capriolo’s contribution has been invaluable, first in preparing that comprehensive report, and afterward in implementing the recommendations contained in it. Important steps have already been taken in developing awareness and providing a program of formation and mobilization for staff and volunteers working in the Catholic Church of Montreal, in order to eliminate any and all abusive situations.”

“We continue to pursue these efforts with determination,” he said.

(Gloutnay writes for in Montreal.)