Calgary Catholic Diocese shouldn't encourage sexual abuse victims to report to them, critics say

The Calgary Catholic Diocese is under scrutiny after an official statement issued in October encouraged adult victims of sexual abuse within the church to report their allegations to the church or police.

One concerned citizen calls it 'inappropriate' for Catholic Church to ask victims to report to them at all

In an October statement, the Diocese of Calgary encouraged anyone with information regarding sexual misconduct or abuse in the church to report to police or the two people who make up the church's sexual abuse and misconduct committee. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

The Calgary Catholic Diocese is under scrutiny after an official statement issued in October that encouraged adult victims of sexual abuse within the church to report their allegations to the church or police. 

Danielle Aubry, CEO of Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, says she can't understand why the official statement from the diocese asked adult parishioners to report to one or the other.

"I was absolutely shocked," she said.

The statement reads, in part:

"Anyone who has information regarding sexual misconduct or abuse by Fr. Peter Hung Cong Tran, OP is encouraged to report these incidents to the police, or to Patricia Jones (chair of the sexual abuse and misconduct committee of the Diocese of Calgary) at 1-833-547-8360 or to the bishop's delegate, Fr. Tim Boyle at 403-330-5923." 

Aubry wonders if it's about public relations and image, or if it's really trying to address abuse in the church — one with a history of sweeping these things under the rug and handling internally.

"My question is around the accountability piece and the secrecy piece and what is the true intention here?" she said.

'This isn't an either or. This is a both and.'

Father Tim Boyle, with the diocese, is one of two people along with Jones who make up the committee in question, known as the sexual abuse and misconduct committee.

He acknowledges the statement didn't use clear language. It told parishioners a Calgary priest was relieved of all duties following an internal investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct toward a minor and an adult. He says they're asking adult victims to report to both police and the church.

"I'd say to them by all means go to the police. That's a consistent message. Go to a sexual wellness centre. Absolutely go there as well," he said. 

"But if we're going to improve our culture, if we're going to develop spaces, community spaces, church spaces that are safe, we have to hear if there's been any violations. So we also need to hear. This isn't an either or. This is a both and."

He stressed anyone under 18 should immediately report to police.

'Wholly inappropriate'

But concerned citizen Kenn Bur takes issue with the diocese encouraging victims to report to them at all. Bur penned his concerns, along with recommendations, in a letter to Calgary's interim chief of police.

"It is wholly inappropriate for any organization, least of all the Catholic Church, to encourage potential victims of a sex crime to come forward to a committee convened by the Calgary diocese or any other church official," he wrote.

In an interview with CBC News, Bur said he believes this gives the committee access to individuals who should potentially be reported to police.

"[It's] a very disturbing situation when the committee that the Calgary diocese has set up to be a filter for sex crimes investigation to mitigate their reputation and financial responsibility for these ongoing crimes is achieving some success in being able to talk to priests rather than talking to the Calgary city police investigators," he said.

'We're not here to cover something up'

Boyle defends the committee, saying it's been around for nearly two decades (started during the early tenure of former Bishop Fred Henry) and that survivors are their No. 1 priority.

"And the first thing that we want to make available to them is a pastoral encounter, that they have a right and need to be heard and believed," he said.

"We're not here to cover something up or to prevent something from reaching the police of from reaching the appropriate authorities. So first of all we have to assure them of that."

Boyle says the committee is officially made up of himself and Patricia Jones, CEO for Catholic Family Services.

Lack of consultation questioned

Aubry says this is part of the problem: there are no outside, unbiased experts or organizations on the committee.

"The fact [is] that we are a completely neutral organization that specializes in dealing with survivors day in and day out and we have not been invited into this process in any way because we're an outsider," she said.

"We should have been invited to some form of conversation about this so that that the experts in Calgary on sexual abuse and sexual assault could have at least, you know, been part of the initial conversation."

However, Jones — who chairs the sexual abuse and misconduct committee of the Diocese of Calgary — points out that she is CEO of Catholic Family Service and a social worker with more than three decades of experience who has often worked with the police and victims of abuse.

Boyle said he has plans to seek input from the experts at the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre and he hopes to expand the committee to include independent experts and legal advisers in the near future.

Church pursuing investigations

In a statement, the Calgary Police Service says it encourages anyone of any age who has been a victim of sexual assault, no matter when it occurred, to report to police. Victims must report to police for a criminal investigation to be initiated.

Boyle says the diocese has a good relationship with police.

"They know that even if they don't pursue an investigation because they haven't received a formal complaint, we're going to pursue an investigation," he said. "So they're happy to hear that we're going to take it further than they might in some instances."

Boyle says alleged victims of Fr. Peter Hung Cong Tran have spoken to police but haven't yet decided to make an official complaint.

"They might later, but they're still working that out and we're happy with that."

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Lucie most recently headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alberta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson