‘Mishandling and delays’ of Montreal archdiocese abuse complaints: ombudsperson

Global News [Toronto, Canada]

December 12, 2022

By Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

The ombudsperson of Montreal’s Roman Catholic archdiocese is highlighting the “mishandling and delays” of abuse cases against the church and says she hopes that by speaking out, it will jolt the organization to act.

Lawyer Marie Christine Kirouack says in her new report that since June, delays in some files have become “interminable” and are causing complainants to lose faith in the process.

In an interview Monday, she said the problems began when she started reviewing older complaints.

“I feel that we’re in the midst of a storm right now,” she said. “Is it linked to the fact that I started working in late May and June into the old files?” Kirouack suggested some of the “old guard” at the archdiocese don’t want it made public that they didn’t act on abuse claims.

In the report — her fifth since being named to the role in 2021 — Kirouack described the case of a high-ranking priest who leaked confidential information by transferring internal emails to a third party outside the church, revealing the names of complainants and the persons accused. The unnamed priest also told two complainants he would handle their cases himself.

Kirouack said she called for the high-ranking priest to immediately be removed, but she said he was only relieved of his duties as episcopal vicar three months after she complained about his actions.

“You know, we guarantee the confidentiality to people who decide to file a complaint,” Kirouack said. “We want to respect the fact that they don’t want (anyone) ? to know they were abused because sometimes they have never spoken about this to anybody.”

The problems at the archdiocese led to the departure last week of the retired Quebec Superior Court justice who drafted a landmark report in 2020 calling for better oversight and transparency within the church. Pepita G. Capriolo was hired in 2019 by the archdiocese to investigate how it handled the case of Brian Boucher, a priest who was sentenced that year to eight years in prison for abusing two boys.

Capriolo was part of a transition team that was implementing the recommendations she had made in her report on Boucher. Her Dec. 7 resignation letter was included as an appendix in Kirouack’s report. In the letter, Capriolo said “serious problems” remain in the implementation of her recommendations.

“We had everything on paper, everything was ready and I found that there was increasing resistance to actually applying what we were supposed to be doing,” Capriolo said in an interview Monday.

She said she met “a wall” on certain efforts, such as implementing the sanctions process or getting employees to take compulsory training on identifying abuse and dealing with it.

“There are people who are trying to slow it down; there are people who don’t want it to work,” Capriolo said. “I honestly truly believe the archbishop is in good faith and wants it to work, but there is a level of advisers he has who are still suffering from the sin of clericalism to a very large extent.”

Capriolo was critical of the time it took the remove the high-ranking priest who was the subject of Kirouack’s complaint. The retired judge also criticized the treatment of an archivist who was assigned to assist Kirouack and who was forced to go on leave after being threatened with termination.

“I’m hoping that my resignation letter and the (ombudsperson’s) report are going to shake them up a little bit,” Capriolo said, adding she was saddened by the events.

Erika Jacinto, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said the church won’t comment on the specifics of the report but is determined to “eliminate any and all abusive situations.”

Kirouack has received 188 complaints against the church since she started her role as ombudsperson. Sixty-one complaints involved abuse — 41 of which were sexual in nature. She said she intends to stay in her role and believes Archbishop Christian Lepine has been acting in good faith.

“The change of culture, when you try to do that with any type of organization, there’s headbutting that goes on until we can kind of move forward,” Kirouack said. “Maybe that’s where we’re at, but we’ll keep moving forward. We owe that to the victims.”