Quebec Catholic dioceses tap ex-judge to investigate alleged cases of sexual abuse

Starting in September, former Superior Court justice Anne-Marie Trahan will comb through records, starting in the 1950s, from Joliette, Montreal, Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Saint-Jérôme and Valleyfield dioceses in Quebec.

Anne-Marie Trahan will comb through the records from 5 dioceses, including Montreal

Christian Lépine, archbishop of Montreal, asked retired Superior Court justice Anne-Marie Trahan to conduct the audit to determine the number and nature of cases of alleged sexual abuse in five Catholic dioceses in Quebec. (Charles Contant/CBC)

A retired judge will examine 70 years of archives to determine the number and nature of cases of alleged sexual abuse committed against minors in five Catholic dioceses in Quebec, including Montreal.

The goal is to collect statistics on the number of allegations that involve both clergy members and staff at the Joliette, Montreal, Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Saint-Jérôme and Valleyfield dioceses, according to a news release issued by the Archdiocese of Montreal.

Archbishop Christian Lépine said Wednesday that he hopes the process will help restore trust in the church.

"It doesn't answer all the questions, but it's to take measure of the situation — how many victims, how many priests were involved," Lépine said. "Then each diocese will see how to move ahead."

Starting in September, former Superior Court justice Anne-Marie Trahan will comb through archives from the 1950s onward.

Lépine asked Trahan to conduct the audit, and was inspired by similar initiatives elsewhere in the world, according to the release.

The archdiocese says Trahan will be given all the necessary means to carry out a thorough investigation.

The Quebec Association of Victims of Priests thinks it's an empty gesture.

"This is not an independent audit, this is not an independent inquiry," spokesperson Carlo Tarini said.

"This review announced today is obviously for some type of damage control," he said.

Auxiliary bishop Thomas Dowd says if the archdiocese is going to start fresh, it has to examine its past. (Charles Contant/CBC)

In a statement today, the Archdiocese of Quebec said it will also conduct an audit of its archives. The Quebec archdiocese includes the dioceses of Chicoutimi, Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière and Trois-Rivières.

The statement said the details of the audit are still to be determined.

Thomas Dowd, one of the Montreal archdiocese's auxiliary bishops, was involved in the planning of the review.

He said the process is about bringing to light cases that may have been kept secret in order to ensure justice is served and to "learn from it so that frankly, we know what to do, and do better, in future cases."

"We want to be able to react accurately if any new complaints come forward, but it's also important to clean out that closet. So if we're going to start fresh, we've got to take a look at our past," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Dowd said the case of Brian Boucher, a Montreal priest sentenced on Monday to eight years in prison for sexual assault, compounded Lépine's desire to get to the truth.

The audit is expected to last between 18 and 24 months. The final report will be made public.

With files from Jaela Bernstien


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