Montreal Catholic Church will fingerprint all priests working with children

A year after it announced a pilot project to bar priests, volunteers and all those involved in faith education from being alone with children, the Catholic Church of Montreal now says all churches will be bound by the same rules by 2020.

New rule part of 10-step screening process first tested in pilot project launched last year

"The Catholic Church has to be the safest place for the vulnerable," said Bishop Thomas Dowd, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Montreal. ( Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

The Catholic Church of Montreal will expand its pilot project that bars priests and church volunteers from being alone with children and requires them to provide digital fingerprints to work with vulnerable populations. 

Around 10 churches have been taking part in the pilot project, which was launched last fall. All churches will now have to follow these rules by 2020.

The rules apply to those occupying roles deemed as "high risk" in the diocese's 194 churches and ministries — working with minors, the sick and the elderly — and also include mandatory police background checks.

"In terms of whether or not we were going to (implement the plan), that wasn't even in question. We're going. This has to happen," said Bishop Thomas Dowd, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Montreal.

"The Catholic Church has to be the safest place for the vulnerable."

The hope, according to Bertrand Montpetit, pastor at St. Luke's Parish in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, is that these measures will serve as a deterrent.

"If someone would like to do something wrong or abuse anyone, knowing there's all this filtering, they won't ask to become volunteers in our church," he said.

How it will work

Everyone, from salaried employees to volunteers, will be subject to a 10-step screening process.

There will have to be at least two adults with a group of minors, and those adults will have to provide references and adhere to an ethics code.
St. Luke's Parish in Dollard-des-Ormeaux was of around 10 churches that took part in the pilot project to test out stricter rules for Montreal priests, including a ban on being alone with children. (Google Maps)

But those selected to carry out roles that carry a higher level of risk must go through background checks "to make sure they are suited for that role," Dowd said.

St. Luke's was one of the churches that took part in the pilot project. But Montpetit said his church has been unofficially following most of the rules for years.

Montpetit gave the example of confession. He meets the child alone, but there is someone else in the vicinity who can see both him and child.

So while confession remains confidential because the other person can't hear what is being said, there is still that extra level of surveillance required under the new rules.

"We must protect everyone," Montpetit said.

With files from Antoni Nerestant, CBC's Daybreak