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'Shame on the church:' lawyer says London Catholic Diocese is cutting funding for abuse victims

A London lawyer says the Catholic Diocese is cutting the amount of money it pays for counselling for victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests.

London Catholic Diocese says it is asking for "evidence-based counselling"

The London Diocese serves more than 430,000 Roman Catholics in nine Ontario counties. (File Photo)

A London lawyer says the Catholic Diocese is cutting the amount of money it pays for counselling for victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests.   

The Diocese has been paying for counselling for years after victims of sexual abuse at the hands of church officials launched lawsuits against the Catholic church and won the right to compensation. 

Now, London lawyer Rob Talach, who has represented several of those victims, says the Diocese is not only reducing the amount of counselling sessions it pays for, but also reducing the amount covered by up to 50 per cent. 

"They wrote a whole bunch of counsellors, saying 'hey, we're looking at changing all this and in the meantime it's $120 a hit and you have to start justifying why you should get more," he said. 

London lawyer Rob Talach says the Diocese is not only reducing the amount of counselling sessions it pays for, but also reducing the amount covered (CBC)

CBC News has obtained a copy of a letter sent to counsellors from the Catholic Diocese informing them they are approving five sessions at a rate of $120 per hour. 

"We feel this is a just rate based on WSIB, ministry of finance and the Ontario Association of Psychologists guidelines. After five sessions we are open to review on a case by case basis," the letter said. 

However, Father John Comiskey, a London Catholic Diocese spokesman claims the level of funding for victims of sexual abuse by the church has not changed. 

Father John Comiskey of the Diocese of London says, the only changes the Diocese has made is asking counsellors for complainants and those who have received settlements from the Diocese to use evidence-based counselling. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

"The only changes that we have made is that we have asked those who are giving counselling for complainants and those who have received settlements from us that they're going to be using evidence-based counselling," he said. "We are asking in advance for a protocol."

"We have a right to know what the fees are going to be and that we agree on those fees and services before those services are provided," Comiskey said. 

"We're not asking for confidential information," he said. "We're not asking for what is said in those sessions, but it's after 5 sessions that the counsellors can give us some kind of idea about the treatment protocol."

A problem for survivors

Brenda Brunelle, the creator of the first Canadian chapter of the Survivor Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said she's heard this kind of language from the church before. 

"It's not uncommon for the Diocese to speak out of both sides of its mouth," she said. "They're not looking to help surivors, they're just looking at their bottom line." 

Brunelle said the problem with the church cutting the level of funding it's giving to sexual abuse survivors is that it's not enough to get adequate treatment. 

"I'm not sure where any survivor will find a psychologist for the fee the Diocese is approving for one session, let alone five," she said. "I may find it incredibly difficult to find a qualified psychologist who would even see me for that fee." 

Compounding the problem, according to Brunelle, who was herself sexually abused by a priest as a child, said it takes time for victims and psychologists to develop trust. 

I may find it incredibly difficult to find a qualified psychologist who would even see me for that fee,- Barbara Brunelle, Survivor Network for those Abused by Priests

"That rapport needs to be established," she said. 

"Any person who has been abused as a child has lived with that secret for most of their childhood and often late in the adult life they come forward," she said. "Trust is a huge issue."

"How on earth the Diocese believes that it could possibly be accomplished and a skilled psychologist could come up with a treatment plan after just five visits is just puzzling to me." 

Brunelle said it's time for the more than 430,000 Catholics in the London Diocese to show church officials what they think of the funding cuts by delivering some funding cuts themselves. 

"I would love to see parishioners in the churches to stand up for their faith,' she said. "Quit feeding your envelopes every Sunday and we're not paying these legal fees anymore." 

Brunelle said the church needs to "clean house" and put a stop to the abuse that happens behind closed doors. 

"Get rid of the pedophiles," she said. "Deal with this problem." 

"They don't care about the harm that they've caused, the harm that they've created," she said. "Shame on the church."

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