Halifax-Yarmouth archbishop echoes Pope's 'expression of sorrow' on sexual abuse

Roman Catholic Archbishop Anthony Mancini has spent most of his 11 years as head of the Halifax-Yarmouth diocese dealing with wave after wave of sexual abuse allegations.

Archbishop Anthony Mancini condemns 'culture of silence, the culture of coverup'

Halifax-Yarmouth Archbishop Anthony Mancini says the Roman Catholic Church must take responsibility for the actions of priests who sexually abused children and end the culture of covering up the wrongdoings. (CBC News)

Roman Catholic Archbishop Anthony Mancini has spent most of his 11 years as head of the Halifax-Yarmouth diocese dealing with wave after wave of sexual abuse allegations against his fellow priests.

On Monday, following the public condemnation by Pope Francis of sexual abuse by predator priests in the United States, Mancini, 72, acknowledged that the revelations are far from over.

"I can't talk about what's happening in Pennsylvania or talk about what's happening in Chile or what's happening in Australia, but it's been happening in Halifax, Nova Scotia for the last 40, 50 years. So we're not immune to this stuff," he told CBC News.

"It's been happening and we've been dealing with this over the last number of years. I've been here just about 11 years and this has been one of the primary issues that I've dealt with and continue to deal with during the whole ministry that I've exercised here."

Nearly a week after a Pennsylvania grand jury released its roughly 900-page report on sexual abuse by clergy involving at least 1,000 children and 300 priests over seven decades, the Pope sent out a letter condemning the alleged misconduct and pledging repentance.

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to deliver a speech to the faithful, prior to the Angelus prayer, on August 19, 2018 at St. Peter's square in the Vatican. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)

It's a sentiment that Mancini echoes.

"Contrary to what some may believe, we'll deal with the responsibilities that are ours. This is not about avoiding the issue," he said.

He encourages those who have been abused to come forward.

"If you've been abused, call the police, call the authorities. We want to deal with it. Why? Not because I like litigation. Not because I care about fighting with lawyers or any of this kind of stuff. It's because it's necessary. Because the church is in crisis," Mancini said. 

"And in order for me to do the job that I've been entrusted to do — which is of a gospel, religious perspective that's a missionary job — I've got to get over this stuff. And so the sooner we can get to a place of purification, the better it will be for everybody."

'Expression of failure'

Mancini said he agreed with critics who said the Pope's letter could have gone further and given more detail on how the church will take action. 

But he noted that while allegations of sexual abuse surfaced decades ago in Canada, there are other countries where they are only beginning to surface.

He called the letter a "green light" to the church around the world to take action. 

"I think that's what this letter is all about. It's an expression of sorrow, it's an expression of failure, it's a recognition that there are issues we haven't sufficiently addressed in the culture — the culture of silence, the culture of coverup."

Mancini wrote a response to the situation in a letter posted to the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth's website Tuesday.

Class-action lawsuit

Mancini's struggle with allegations of wrongdoing by priests in his own diocese is far from over.

A class-action lawsuit involving potentially hundreds of victims is brewing in Nova Scotia. It has not yet been certified by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

Halifax lawyer John McKiggan represents the lead plaintiff in the case, Douglas Champagne. In court documents, Champagne claims he was abused by priest George G. Epoch while he was an altar boy at Canadian Martyr's Church in Halifax's south end.

Epoch left a trail of victims, more than 100 in Ontario alone, who received settlements from the Jesuit Fathers of Upper Canada, according to court documents. 

John McKiggan of Halifax law firm McKiggan Hebert is handling the class-action lawsuit. (CBC)

McKiggan also acted on behalf of sex-abuse victims in a 2009 $16-million settlement with the Diocese of Antigonish. He said 142 victims received compensation for abuse by priests. That case began with a single complainant but prompted dozens of people to come forward with similar allegations against several priests, dating back 60 years. Diocese of Antigonish has had to sell numerous properties to pay for the settlement.

'We will pay for it'

Since the Halifax-Yarmouth diocese is twice the size of the Antigonish diocese, McKiggan expects a proportionate number of victims to step forward. 

"There is no reason to believe that the Halifax-Yarmouth diocese ran its affairs any differently than the Antigonish diocese did. The policies were the same," McKiggan said.

Mancini cannot say how the lawsuit will be resolved.

"Our lawyers are waiting to get the proper information," he said.

"Are there potentially more people out there who have been victims and have been abused? I'm sure there are. And so, what will come of this? I've had a call, who's going to pay for this? We will pay for it — however that gets translated into settlements. That's what's going to happen," Mancini said.