Child abuse has brought 'brokenness in our Church', London bishop says

Saying that sex abuse scandals have brought to light a "brokenness in our church" Rev. Ronald P. Fabbro, the bishop of the London diocese, has penned a letter calling for bold reforms in the church.

Rev. Fabbro says local Catholics 'must be courageous in carrying out the reforms needed in our Church.'

In a 'letter to the faithful' released Friday Rev. Ronald P. Fabbro, Bishop of London, says Catholics 'must be courageous in carrying out the reforms needed in our Church.' (London Diocese )

Stating that widespread sex abuse against children by members of the clergy has brought to light a "brokenness in our church" Rev. Ronald P. Fabbro, bishop of the London diocese, has written a letter calling for bold reforms but offering few specifics of what that will look like. 

In a "letter to the faithful" initially slated for publication Saturday but released today, Rev. Fabbro begins by discussing years of sexual abuse of children by priests at six dioceses in Pennsylvania documented in a grand jury report. 

The report, which is the most comprehensive in U.S. history, accuses hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania of sexually abusing children for decades, with church officials hiding deviant priests, often by reassigning them to different parishes or sending them to treatment centres. 

"It is devastating to read the accounts of profound evil that occurred in our church," writes Fabbro, who says he's met personally with abuse victims.

"It was heart-wrenching to listen to their stories of the pain and the sufferings they have endured throughout their entire lives," he said.

He writes that efforts by the Church to cover up abuse allegations are "terribly wrong" and adds "Catholics are rightly outraged that the bishops failed to put a stop to the abuse."

Fabbro's letter then mentions the London diocese's Safe Environment Policy, enacted in 1989 and updated every four years since, as a way to prevent future abuse and protect children.

"The clergy abuse crisis has brought to light the brokenness in our Church," he writes. "For these wounds to heal, we must first acknowledge our brokenness before the Lord. We must do penance in reparation for the grave sins committed. And, we — bishops, priests and lay people — must be courageous in carrying out the reforms needed in our Church."

Fabbro's call for reform comes in the wake of local cases documenting abuse against children by priests.

'So identical to what we see in Canada' 

John Swales of London was abused as a teenager by Father Barry Glendinning in the 1970s. Swales has waged a nearly decade-long legal battle against the Catholic Church for justice — even calling for the Pope to face charges. 

Swales has written a letter that lays out steps he feels the church must take for atonement and to prevent future abuse. The steps are posted on his website Dear Pope Francis:

  1. All non-offending priests should be directed to visit every family in their parish that has suffered sexual abuse by priests or clergy, and to listen to their stories and believe them. 
  2. The church should stop forcing victims to file legal cases for compensation. "Ask families and communities what they need to heal, give them everything they ask for," Swales writes. He says the church should be "willing to go bankrupt" to help those who've been hurt. 
  3. The Catholic Church should publicly acknowledge the role of residential schools in Canada. "Acknowledge and apologize for the sexual, physical and emotional abuse of Indigenous peoples by priests and nuns," he writes.

Lawyer Ro Talach, who represented Swales and his family in their fight against the church, said the allegations in Pennsylvania fit the pattern of clergy abuse in Canada, and not enough is being done to help abuse victims. 

​"This pattern we see in Pennsylvania, we see here in the London area," he said. "This is so identical to what we see in Canada." 


Below is the complete text of Bishop Fabbro's Letter to the Faithful

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

The media has given much attention to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report which was recently released. The report investigates clergy sexual abuse of minors in six dioceses in Pennsylvania dating back to 1947. It found that 300 priests engaged in the abuse of more than 1000 children. The extent of the abuse is shocking. People have reacted with anger and shame, and grief for the many victims.

It is devastating to read the accounts of profound evil that occurred in our Church. Since I have been bishop, I have met with survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their families. It was heart-wrenching to listen to their stories of the pain and the sufferings they have endured throughout their entire lives – sometimes for 30, 40 or 50 years after the abuse occurred.

The Grand Jury Report details the failures of the bishops who covered up the abuse by moving priests around. The cover up was terribly wrong. Catholics are rightly outraged that the bishops failed to put a stop to the abuse. How could they have failed so grievously in their calling to be shepherds of their people and in their responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us?

The report investigates what happened in the Pennsylvania dioceses over the past 70 years. Our Church has learned from the mistakes that were made in the past. Bishops have acknowledged these tragic mistakes. We have apologized to survivors and asked their forgiveness. We have compensated them for the harm they suffered and provided counselling.

Since 1989, our diocese has implemented a strong, comprehensive Safe Environment Policy. It is periodically updated and improved. It includes a number of sound procedures to prevent abuse from happening. A priest who commits an offense against a minor or any other vulnerable person is removed from ministry.

My goal is to protect people against abuse. A Safe Environment Policy for our diocese, and the steps we have taken to prevent sexual abuse and to protect our children and the vulnerable, are available on our diocesan webpage at www.dol.ca/safe-environment-policy.

The clergy abuse crisis has brought to light the brokenness in our Church. For these wounds to heal, we must first acknowledge our brokenness before the Lord. We must do penance in reparation for the grave sins committed. And, we – bishops, priests and lay people – must be courageous in carrying out the reforms needed in our Church.

In his letter to the People of God on 20 August 2018, Pope Francis said, "No effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated".

The pope calls all of us to penance and prayer which, he says:

  • Opens our eyes and our hearts to other people's sufferings;
  • Opens our ears to the cries of pain felt by children, young people and the disabled;
  • Makes us hunger and thirst for justice;
  • Impels us to walk in the truth;
  • Leads us to be committed in truth and charity with men and women of good will to combat all forms of abuse.

On Thursday, 13 September, our annual Mass for the Survivors of Clergy Abuse was celebrated in the parishes of our diocese as a votive Mass in honour of Our Lady of Sorrows. People who have participated in this special Mass over the years have told me how moving it is. On that day, our whole diocese is united with Mary at the foot of the Cross. Together, we join in prayer for the survivors of sexual abuse and their families, for the perpetrators and for healing in our Church and in our communities.

May the Holy Spirit, through the intercession of Our Lady of Sorrows, grant us the grace of conversion and the resolve to combat the grave sins committed in our Church.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Rev. Ronald P. Fabbro, C.S.B.

Bishop of London