Ottawa Archdiocese has changed in light of sexual abuse, archbishop says

The Archdiocese of Ottawa says it has taken action to prevent sexual abuse with a special office and changes to their code of conduct.

Diocesan Safe Environment Office created last December to review and update policies, manage abuse cases

Pope Francis delivers a speech to the faithful prior to the Angelus prayer on Aug. 19 at St. Peter's square in the Vatican. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)

The Archdiocese of Ottawa says it has taken steps to prevent sexual abuse with a special office and changes to their code of conduct.

On Monday, Pope Francis wrote a letter to Catholics around the world, calling on them to help put an end to "this culture of death," and vowing to end the cover-ups that have come to light in many countries — including Canada — about decades of abuse against children.

"There's obviously many people who have suffered and I think spiritually and psychologically and emotionally, many people have experienced a death of sorts in their own personal lives," said Archbishop Terrence Prendergast in an interview with CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

Prendergast said he was moved after listening to a sexual abuse survivor tell his story about how his life and relationships have been affected.

"It's a great tragedy and I think we need to help these people come back to life. So, that's really what the church needs to do," he said. "It needs to change its approach to how issues of abuse are handled."

Office created, code of conduct changed

Prendergast said the local archdiocese has met with parishioners and priests to make them aware of the issues around sexual abuse.

The Diocesan Safe Environment Office was also established last December, based on an abuse risk management model developed in the U.S.

The office reviews and updates current policies, including the code of conduct, how to screen potential employees (including priests) and standards for interacting with minors and vulnerable populations, according to the office's administrative co-ordinator, Michèle Clermont.

The office is also responsible for responding to and reporting claims, including abuse cases.

"We have to make sure that any type of behaviour that could compromise priests, could compromise the [churchgoers], could compromise young people, it doesn't take place," he said. "We need to be proactive in preventing opportunities for abuse, making sure that there are no opportunities for people to be harmed, and that's a mindset that has to change."

Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast says changes have been made to the Archdiocese of Ottawa to prevent future abuse cases. (CBC)

He said he's also had to alter some of his own behaviour by no longer picking up hitchhikers on the road.

"I'd love to help them out, but I can't risk an allegation against me or I can't put myself in a situation where I might be tempted," he said.

There have been calls for abusers or anyone involved in covering up sex abuse to be named and denounced. But Prendergast doesn't believe those actions would help.

"I would certainly welcome bishops who have been involved in these kinds of actions to examine their conscience and take action," suggesting they should resign or that the pope could request resignations.

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning