Nova Scotia

N.S. archdiocese orders police checks for staff

The Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax and the Diocese of Yarmouth will now require any staff member who comes into contact with children, youth or vulnerable adults to submit to police record checks.

New rules for youth workers follow Lahey scandal

The Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax and the Diocese of Yarmouth will now require any staff member who comes into contact with children, youth or vulnerable adults to submit to police record checks.

Anthony Mancini, the archbishop of Halifax, drafted the 36-page document called the "Responsible Ministry and Safe Environment Protocol." The protocol will apply to the two regions of Nova Scotia that are in Mancini's purview.

The new rules governing staff will also mean any one-on-one meetings can only take place in rooms and locations that are open to public view.

Marilyn Sweet, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said the protocol was developed after Raymond Lahey, the former bishop of Antigonish, was charged with possession of child pornography last fall.

"That set off a real storm of outrage right across society and the church — and properly so," Sweet said. "When a person who is in such a position of authority is charged with such things, people are affronted and they need to express what that is to them."

Lahey's trial has been set for April 26, 2011. Lahey, 69, was charged in September with possessing and importing child pornography, 10 days after he was detained at Ottawa airport upon arriving on a flight from Britain.

Police said they found hundreds of files and dozens of videos on Lahey's laptop, many of them showing young males engaged in sex acts.

Sweet said following the Lahey scandal many people wanted the church to become more transparent.

"A piece of what the people consistently spoke of was the need for the church to be more transparent, more responsible, more open, more accountable," Sweet said.

"That translates into preparing recognizable statements that everybody is called to respond to."

Although many of the reforms were spurred on by the fallout from the Lahey controversy, Sweet said, some changes were advanced by the church's insurance company, such as the police record checks for staff.

Some churches have always required criminal background checks, but they were not required by all churches in the archdiocese.

Sweet said it will be required for everyone involved in ministry in the church, as well as anyone who comes into contact with children, youth and vulnerable adults. The rule will include everyone from Sunday school teachers to hallway monitors to janitors and caretakers.

Meeting methods overhauled

The way people have meetings in the church is also going to be overhauled.

Sweet said the new rules will not hinder the opportunity for people to have private conversations but they will be more open for the safety of everyone involved.

"The nature of the church is that people do need, at times, to have private conversations to talk about the deepest parts of their lives and things that are really important to them. You can't always do that in a place where other people are around," Sweet said.

"But you need to be able to do it in a place where both the one who's seeking counselling, advice and care and the one who's offering it, that both of those people are safe."

When the decision was made to start adding windows into church offices, the first office door to be changed was that of the archbishop.

To that end, the archdiocese of Halifax has just had all of its office doors affixed with windows.

"Every place where you would go and shut a door, you still have the privacy of the conversation that won't be overheard but people are visible to others. It's a simple safety mechanism that's intended for all participants in the conversation," she said.