Catholics angered, saddened by Montreal Church's mishandling of abusive priest
'The sheep are not following the church blindly anymore,' one former parishioner says
People who tried to warn Montreal's Catholic Archdiocese about a pedophile priest say they're sad, angry and overwhelmed by an explosive report outlining the church's repeated failures to heed their warnings.
The Montreal archdiocese asked retired Quebec Superior Court justice Pepita Capriolo to investigate the church's handling of allegations against former priest Brian Boucher, who was convicted in January 2019 of sexually abusing two young boys.
Capriolo's report, released Wednesday, outlines the failures of top officials in the Montreal diocese to take action after repeated red flags about Boucher were raised.
"I have to tell you I'm overwhelmed by what Justice Capriolo has put together," Kurt Reckziegel, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Annunciation Church in the Town of Mount Royal, said Thursday.
"I'm sad. It's unbelievable."
Boucher was the parish priest at Our Lady of the Annunciation from 2005 to 2014.
Prior to Boucher's arrival in TMR, Reckziegel was part of a group of parishioners that met with church officials to voice their misgivings. They had heard rumours about his controlling personality, authoritative management style and closeness with young boys.
Their concerns were dismissed.
"I just can't understand the ignorance, and the buck-passing," Reckziegel said.
In her report, Capriolo describes how a "culture of secrecy" prevailed over the Church as it looked into concerns about Boucher.
It details how some of Canada's most powerful Catholic figures, including Cardinal Marc Ouellet, once a candidate for the papacy, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, now deceased, and Anthony Mancini, set to retire Friday as the Archbishop of Halifax, were made aware of problems with Boucher but did little to put an end to them.
Reckziegel believes some of the church officials named in the report should consider resigning. He said it appears there is "a clique of people who are more determined to protect themselves, their offices and the clergy that are in their care."
"In our religion, we call the lord our shepherd, and we are the sheep," Reckziegel said.
"I have to say the sheep are not following the church blindly anymore, and somebody should remember that."
Will internal sanctions be enough?
Archbishop Christian Lépine said Wednesday that any internal sanctions for church officials over the handling of the allegations would be determined by the Vatican.
Lépine also said the church would take steps to determine if other cases of abuse had been ignored.
"Starting in January and February, an external team will go through everything that we have and look for allegations that were not properly treated," Lépine said.
There are questions, however, about whether the church can be trusted to do that work.
Lawyer Virginie Dufresne-Lemire represents one of Boucher's victims, who is lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the Montreal Archdiocese on behalf of anyone who may have been abused by any Montreal priest since 1940.
In addition to a settlement, Dufresne-Lemire said her clients would like the province to launch a public inquiry.
"We think a commission of inquiry would be able to shed light on a situation that we know happened. Now we have the proof that it happened at least once and we know that it happened more," Dufresne-Lemire said.
The province already said last year that it did not intend to hold a public inquiry, and that it would trust the church to do the work.
Elisabeth Gosselin, a spokesperson for Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, said in an email that Capriolo's report hasn't changed the government's position.
"The report is deeply shocking. It is important to shed light on allegations of sexual assault. We welcome the initiative of the Archdiocese of Montreal to launch an external audit on the subject," Gosselin said.
Police mum on possible investigation
Other former parishioners wondered whether criminal charges should be pursued.
"If there is criminal liability there, it should be pursued for sure," said a man who attended St. Veronica's parish in Dorval as a boy. CBC News has agreed not to identify him by name.
His parents, along with three other families, raised red flags about Boucher's behaviour in the mid-1980s, before Boucher became a priest.
"The safety of children was not really considered by the powers that be at the church," he said.
Another parishioner who had concerns about Boucher before his ordination said the efforts to protect Boucher made her physically ill.
"Every time this comes up, I am overwhelmed: disgust, guilt at exposing my children to this monster, anger at the Church for ignoring everything, anger at the hoopla that surrounded his ordination," said the woman, who also asked not to be named.
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She is skeptical the Church will change, given that many members of the priesthood are still part of the old guard.
A spokesperson for Montreal police wouldn't say if it would consider Capriolo's report, or if the force was still actively investigating Boucher or anyone else in the Church who handled the allegations.
"In general, SPVM investigators may have to examine a multitude of documents of a very varied nature if they can find leads or evidence," the Montreal police service said in an emailed statement.
With files from Benjamin Shingler