Officials at Archdiocese of Montreal meddled in abuse investigations, ombudsman says

CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) [Toronto, Canada]

December 12, 2022

By Leah Hendry

High-ranking official leaked confidential information about abuse complaints, according to new report

The lawyer appointed to help make the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal more transparent in the way it handles allegations of abuse against clergy says her job is being undermined by those inside the church.

In a report made public Monday and obtained in advance by CBC News, Marie Christine Kirouack, the church ombudsman, said she discovered a high-ranking clergy member was leaking information about abuse complaints, and in some cases, actively discouraging complainants from contacting her.

“I was totally flabbergasted,” Kirouack said in an interview. The lawyer was appointed to her role by the archdiocese  in the spring of 2021 to deal with complaints of abuse and other inappropriate conduct.

Although the complaint process is supposed to be confidential, Kirouack said the priest, who is not named in her report, was sharing emails with a person outside the archdiocese.

The emails revealed the names of complainants, the names of people who are the subject of complaints and exchanges with an external investigation firm.

All of the leaked complaints concerned allegations of abuse, including sexual and psychological abuse.

Kirouack said she also learned the same priest had failed to notify her about one complaint and in another, told a complainant not to contact her. He told both complainants he would handle them himself — a violation of protocol.

Both complainants later spoke to Kirouack. One of the complaints led to the suspension of a priest and an internal investigation. The other was a person who came forward with allegations of psychological abuse.

“Do I think my work bothers some members of the old guard? Definitely, especially those who, knowingly, decided not to act in the past,” wrote Kirouack in her report.

The Montreal archdiocese released a statement Monday, but did not address the allegations about the leaked complaints.

In the statement, the archdiocese claims that steps have already been taken “in order to eliminate any and all abusive situations” within the Catholic Church of Montreal.

“We continue to pursue these efforts with determination,” the statement reads. 

Lépine declined requests for an interview through Erika Jacinto, a spokesperson for the archdiocese. Jacinto said he wanted to respect the independence of the ombudsman’s report.

Priest relieved of duties — 3 months later

After learning about the breaches of confidentiality, Kirouack called an emergency meeting with Archbishop Christian Lépine and a few high-ranking clergy members at the end of August.

She prepared a document of more than 50 pages with all the emails, so she could clearly show them what had been leaked.

She highlighted the potential damage the leaks could cause complainants who were promised confidentiality and the possibility they could be pressured to withdraw their complaint if their identity was known.

“My first duty is to protect complainants,” said Kirouack.

Kirouack said she was told a decision on the priest’s future would be made quickly, but when no action was taken a month later, she told Lépine she would not send any further complaints to the advisory committee because she couldn’t guarantee confidentiality.

The priest who had shared the emails wasn’t relieved of his duties until Nov. 22, almost three months after Kirouack’s original complaint.

Despite the loss of his position, Kirouack said the priest continues to work for the church and oversees several parishes.

The priest who leaked the information is Fr. Roger Dufresne, an episcopal vicar who oversaw parishes in the western part of the archdiocese, CBC has learned.

He was dismissed from his position and refused to meet with his own archbishop to explain his actions, according to a memo signed by Lépine. The archdiocese did not make Dufresne available for comment.

Hundreds of complaints, many related to abuse

Since Kirouack started working for the archdiocese in May 2021, she has dealt with 188 complaints. A third of those are related to alleged abuse.

Last spring, she was also given the mandate to review earlier complaints and abuse files that hadn’t been handled appropriately. The cases she has flagged so far include allegations of harassment, sexual abuse or sexual assault.

As soon as she started looking at old complaints, Kirouack believes it started to make some people in the church uncomfortable.

“All of a sudden, this bottleneck started,” said Kirouack. “All of a sudden, decisions were being postponed.”

She described the delays on some files as “interminable.”

In some cases, follow-up letters were supposed to be sent to complainants to express sympathy or to ask religious communities for more information.

Despite recommendations to do so, Kirouack said church officials either waited months to send the letter or still haven’t sent it.

Kirouack said she has witnessed similar delays when it comes to suspensions or proceeding with an investigation.

In one case of alleged sexual harassment, the advisory committee recommended both an external investigation and the suspension of a priest. Five months later, Kirouack said in the report, the priest is still in place and an investigation is still not underway.

Former judge resigns in protest

The turmoil of the past few months also led to the resignation of former Superior Court justice Pepita Capriolo, who had helped develop the archdiocese’s new complaint process in the aftermath of a high-profile case of clergy abuse.

Until this spring, she said the complaint system was on the right track. That changed when Kirouack began to look over old files, she said in an interview.

“That’s where we started hitting the wall,” Capriolo said.

Although she repeatedly voiced her frustration and concerns to top church officials, Capriolo said her concerns were not addressed.

Capriolo said she is appalled it took three months to remove the priest, whom CBC has identified as Dufresne, and she can’t understand why he was kept in any kind of supervisory role.

“As a result, the ombudsman can still not send any complaints regarding those parishes because he could get the information and he could still leak it,” said Capriolo. “The whole thing is Kafkaesque and it’s so sad.”

Although Capriolo said she worked with some amazing, dedicated people at the archdiocese, she decided she could no longer stay on. She formally resigned on Dec. 7.

“I feel really bad because I put my heart and soul into this. It’s been three years of my life I’ve been working on this,” she said.

She said the archdiocese has the tools to be a model on how to handle abuse complaints. Now it needs to actually put it into practice and do what is right by the victims, said Capriolo.

Ombusdman determined to stay on

Part of Capriolo’s decision to leave also stemmed from the treatment of the church archivist who works closely with Kirouack.

In Kirouack’s report, she said the archdiocese inexplicably threatened to fire the archivist, who helps her both find and research old files, including the secret archives.

“I think we were making a team that was not appreciated,” said Kirouack.

The stress of the situation led the archivist to go on sick leave, during which another employee at the diocese requested the archivist’s computer access be suspended.

Some files Kirouack was working with suddenly disappeared, according to her report..

Although she regained access later that day, Kirouack sent an email to the employee and copied all of the clergy hierarchy to remind them that no one had the right to deny her access to files.

WATCH | Ombudsman has a ‘message’ for anyone who thinks she’ll back down:

That employee subsequently filed a complaint against Kirouack to the Quebec Bar.

Despite the unpleasantness of the past few months, Kirouack said she’s determined to stay on.

She hopes her criticism of the complaint process does not discourage people from coming forward. As the ombudsman, Kirouack said she had no choice but to expose what was happening, otherwise it would look like she was covering up for the church.

She said that when the system works, it yields amazing results and helps victims heal.

“If anybody thinks I’m resigning, pass the message along, I’m not,” Kirouack said she told the archbishop recently.

“If anybody thinks a complaint to the bar will make me resign, pass the message along. I won’t. I am a voice of the victims. I have a job to do. And when it works, it works splendidly.”

Leah Hendry is a TV, radio and online journalist with CBC Montreal Investigates. Send tips to