The Sins of the Fathers

Cape Breton Post
May 24, 2012

Retired religious studies professor Charles MacDonald presented a series of talks earlier this year on the troubled state of the Roman Catholic Church and how the Church might be resuscitated.

In a recent letter to the editor, Pat Bates quoted MacDonald as describing the Church of yesterday in this way: “Power rested with the pastors in their glebe houses and the bishop in his residence. The lay people were passive — in their place — the pews.”

The pendulum has swung, and the obsequious parishioner of yesteryear is increasing rare, due in no small part to an ever-widening picture of the repugnant actions of some of those former worthies.

Locally, anxiety among parishioners was originally borne out of ever-increasing sexual abuse allegations — and convictions — against priests.

That distress was assuaged somewhat (by abuse victims and their supporters, at least) in 2009 when former bishop Raymond Lahey helped resolve the settlement of a $15-million class-action lawsuit brought by former sexual abuse victims in the Diocese of Antigonish.

But the news later in 2009 that Lahey — a purported champion for sexual abuse victims — had been arrested for possessing pornographic photos of young boys fomented yet another wave of distress and cynicism among practising Catholics.

And things hadn’t changed much on that front when news came down on Feb. 16 of this year that police and the Department of Community Services were looking into a complaint made against Rev. Paul Abbass, the articulate, respected executive director of Talbot House, who, in the wake of Lahey’s arrest, took on the unenviable role of speaking for the diocese and persuading parishioners that selling Church property to fund the sexual abuse settlement was the right thing to do.

It was perhaps too easy for those made numb and cynical by the sins of others to throw up their hands and assume Abbass, too, was guilty of sexual abuse. Ultimately, police said there was no basis to pursue criminal charges.

Parker Donham and the provincial Progressive Conservatives have suggested that the Department of Community Services broke the law by publicizing unspecified, unfounded allegations made against Abbass — who was identified as “ED” (executive director) — in an organizational review of Talbot House posted on the department’s website.

The Protection of Privacy Act prohibits the release of personal information that is likely to be “inaccurate or unreliable” and bans the disclosure of statements that might “unfairly damage the reputation of a person.” The allegations in the department’s review fit that bill.

At the very least — as supporters work toward getting Talbot House up and running again — the department should remove from the report any allegations made against “ED” and issue Abbass an apology.








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