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Canadian bishops announce new guidelines to prevent, investigate child sexual abuse

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has issued new guidelines aimed at improving how allegations of sexual abuse are handled in a bid to prevent future abuses against children.

Guidelines five years in the making promise to put victims first and promote prevention

President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Rev. Lionel Gendron, says the new guidelines aim to put the concerns of victims first. (YouTube)

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has issued new guidelines aimed at improving how allegations of sexual abuse are handled in a bid to prevent future abuses against children. 

Titled Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse: A Call to the Catholic Faithful in Canada for Healing, Reconciliation, and Transformation, the 184-page document is an attempt to update how each diocese responds to sexual abuse in the church. 

The new guidelines apply to all Catholic clergy (Bishops, priests and deacons), as well as members of religious communities and also lay personnel who are working in Catholic parishes or Church organizations.

In a statement announcing the changes, the CCCB says protection of victims, and a focus on long-term prevention and preemptive action, are the guiding principles of the document. 

Among its 69 recommendations: 

  • Putting victims first by ensuring they are received in a non-judgmental way. 
  • Working to ensure bishops and others in authority in the church are educated about sexual abuse with a focus on fostering compassion for victims. 
  • Tougher background checks for staff and volunteers, including background and criminal record checks and psychological evaluations. 
  • Moves to ensure full co-operation with civil authorities.
  • Submit all practices to third-party auditors once every three years. 
  • To stop requiring confidentiality clauses in settlements with victims and to waive those given in the past.

Five years in the making, the guidelines are the first comprehensive review of policies for dealing with sexual abuse since 1992's From Pain to Hope.

That document, last updated in 2007, outlined circumstances in which priests convicted of abusing children might be allowed to return to ministry. 

In a video that accompanies these new guidelines, CCCB president Rev. Lionel Gendron says this will no longer happen. 

"This policy has been in force for some time, but the message needs to be stated with even greater emphasis," he said. 

The Church has long been criticized for trying to shield itself from public scandal by handling allegations internally instead of involving police. 

"We know we must call the police when allegations concern a minor who is in danger," Rev. Gendron says in the video. "And that we must avoid any attempt to cover up wrongdoing." 

The release of the new guidelines follows last month's release of a "Letter to the Faithful" by Rev. Ronald P. Fabbro, Bishop of London.

The letter called on the church to undergo "courageous reforms" to prevent future abuse but two abuse victims who spoke to CBC News criticized the letter as lacking the kind of substantive, structural changes capable of preventing abuse and improving how it's investigated. 

Rev. Fabbro, writing in the introduction to the new guidelines, expresses hope that the new guidelines will help bishops and others in church leadership positions be "more informed, responsible, vigilant and effective in safeguarding pastoral environments."

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