Pope Should Apologize to Newfoundland Abuse Victims

By Brian Jones
The Telegram

July 25, 2008

Every time Pope Benedict XVI apologizes somewhere for the sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy, the ongoing silence of the Roman Catholic church in Newfoundland becomes more noticeable and despicable.

This week, the pope was in Australia, where he issued the apology at a public mass attended by thousands of people.

As quoted by The Associated Press, he said: "I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country. I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured. I assure them as their pastor that I too share in their suffering."

A few days later, the pope met privately with four Australians who had been sexually abused by members of the clergy.

In April, Benedict was in the U.S., where he also issued a public apology for the sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy, and met with several victims.

Cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the U.S. became public in 2002 in Boston, and since then U.S. dioceses have paid out million of dollars in compensation to victims.

Here in Newfoundland, of course, there has been no official public apology for the widespread sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy, even though it has been 20 years since the crimes became publicly known.

Last pontiff visit

The last time a pontiff visited our shores was in 1984, when Pope John Paul II famously blessed the fishing fleet at Flatrock. At that time, the sexual abuse of Newfoundland children by some members of the clergy had not yet become public knowledge.

Almost a whole generation has passed since then. The globe-trotting John Paul II didn't touch down here again, nor does it seem likely that Benedict XVI will.

But at any time over the ensuing years, an open letter or a public statement could have been made. Granted, the pope is a busy man. Maybe local church leaders could have issued a public apology on his behalf, or, almost as good, of their own volition.

As we well know, church leaders in Newfoundland took a far different tack. Their standard response to allegations of sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy was to deny it or ignore it, and to fight extended court battles against claims for financial compensation.

During the few days that Pope Benedict was apologizing in Australia, Sean Walsh of Mount Pearl was telling Telegram reporter Everton McLean that he's still waiting for about 40 per cent of the compensation he is owed by the Diocese of St. George's, even while church officials there buy back properties that had been sold to enable payments to be made to dozens of victims of sexual abuse.

Plenty of time to do right thing

Walsh was abused by priest Gary Hoskins in 1983. Hoskins pleaded guilty in 1997. That's plenty of time for the church to have voluntarily done the right thing, but, as we've seen time and time again, doing the right thing is something that doesn't come easily or naturally to Roman Catholic church leaders in Newfoundland.

It is such a contrast to what has happened elsewhere. In Boston, Bernard Cardinal Law - one of the top church leaders in the U.S. - was ousted soon after the scandal there became public. (Although he did land a cushy position at the Vatican.) Abuse victims in the U.S. received financial compensation in a fraction of the time it took - and continues to take, in many cases - in Newfoundland.

Here's an anecdote that pretty well sums up the attitude of the Roman Catholic church in Newfoundland: even while James Hickey was in prison for sexually abusing boys, there was a plaque on the wall inside Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Portugal Cove - his former parish - lauding him for his service there as priest.

So, it's a reasonable guess that no pope has ever received advice that he should publicly apologize for the abuses that occurred in Newfoundland.

Brian Jones is the editor of The Sunday Telegram. He can be reached by e-mail at


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.