The walking wounded: In Canada, survivors of Catholic Church sex abuse await a reckoning

By Tavia Grant
Globe and Mail
September 22, 2019

Nicholas Harrison, Evelyn Korkmaz and Rob Bowden are still haunted by memories of the sexual abuse they allegedly received from Catholic clergy when they were children.

While countries around the world make meaningful change in the wake of devastating abuse, Canadian survivors are left to make things right on their own

Rob Bowden, a goldsmith in Sydney, Cape Breton, is plagued by nightmares from the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. Evelyn Korkmaz in Ottawa has recurring flashbacks of the mental, physical and sexual abuse she experienced in the early 1970s at the notorious St. Anne’s residential school in northern Ontario, and sometimes stutters when she tries to speak. Across the country in Tsawwassen, B.C., Nicholas Harrison still bears a scar that snakes across his chin from when he says he was thrown down the stairs at school as an eight-year-old.

All three are survivors of clergy abuse. Yet, even after decades of abuse-related scandals in the Catholic Church, there is little understanding of how many other walking wounded there are across Canada, and the true scope of the damage.

In countries such as Australia, the United States and Ireland, revelations of the scale of abuse meted out by Catholic priests and other religious figures have been making headlines and forcing meaningful changes, spurred by a combination of pressure from survivors’ groups, public outrage and criminal investigations.

But such a broad reckoning has yet to unfold here in Canada, where we are still trying to grasp the enormity of the abuse against thousands of First Nations, Inuit and Métis boys and girls at residential schools, many of which were Catholic run.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 findings yielded the clearest view so far of the depth of damage inflicted against children. The reconciliation process has much further to go. At the same time, the Church has yet to acknowledge the full scale of abuse in parishes, schools and other institutions across the country.

Instead, survivors have been left to try to force change on their own.

This week, victims from all corners of Canada will gather in Cornwall, Ont., site of the annual meeting of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB). They’re hoping to force abuse-related reforms onto the agenda and demand a response from the 90 bishops who’ll be attending the five-day summit.

Survivors are pushing for more transparency and accountability from leaders of the Catholic Church – an institution that has chosen a path of secrecy and defensiveness, even as it has paid out millions of dollars in quiet settlements to victims.

They are also calling for external oversight of how abuse claims are handled and outside investigations when allegations surface.

Many of their demands are similar to those made more than a decade ago. They’re tired of waiting, and as their slogan goes, they want action now.


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