No plans for review of past abuse allegations in Charlottetown diocese, says bishop

P.E.I.'s Catholic bishop says he has no plans on the Island to follow the lead of some other Canadian dioceses, and launch an internal review of clergy who have faced allegations of sexual abuse.

New course to protect vulnerable people put in place for staff, volunteers

Bishop Richard Grecco leads a mass at Charlottetown's St. Dunstan's Basilica. Grecco says since he took over as bishop a decade ago, taking steps to prevent abuse has been a focus for the Charlottetown diocese. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

P.E.I.'s Catholic bishop says he has no plans on the Island to follow the lead of some other Canadian dioceses, and launch an internal review of clergy who have faced allegations of sexual abuse.

An internal review done by the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver of cases of clergy sexual abuse was obtained by the CBC's The Fifth Estate. It showed the Archdiocese was aware of 36 cases of abuse since the 1950s by clergy under its jurisdiction, including 26 involving children.

As part of an investigation The Fifth Estate surveyed Canada's other 59 Latin Rite archdioceses and dioceses asking whether they have conducted their own reviews of past and present clergy "who have faced/are facing credible allegations of sexual abuse." 

Only 14 dioceses responded. Of those, four said they have conducted reviews and one said it is in the process of doing so. None of the dioceses surveyed said they were prepared to make the information public. 

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement which said in part, "The tragedy of clergy sexual abuse is and will continue to be addressed with utmost seriousness and respect by the Catholic Bishops of Canada." 

Charlottetown Bishop Richard Grecco said at least at this point, he sees no need to review his diocese's history. 

"I'd have to be convinced that it's going to be beneficial, because all our new policies and what we do for responsible ministry is looking to the future to make sure none of this happens again," said Grecco.

"We're small so I'm waiting to see what happens in the larger dioceses because if it's the best practice then we want to follow best practices."

According to its bishop, the Catholic diocese of Charlottetown has had a special committee in place for the past decade, which handles abuse allegations, and immediately reports any involving children to police. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Grecco said he doesn't know how many Island priests were accused of abuse prior to a decade ago, when he took over as bishop of the Charlottetown diocese. 

Right around that time, he said his diocese created a special committee tasked with hearing clergy misconduct allegations, immediately reporting any involving children to police, and suspending priests with allegations against them until investigations are complete. 

"I can confidently say that since I've arrived here 10 years ago, every allegation that needed to be reported to the police was reported within 24 hours," said Grecco. 

3 allegations, 1 case proceeded

According to the bishop, over the past decade, there have been three child abuse allegations against P.E.I. priests. Grecco said in two of those cases police found there was no evidence of abuse, so no charges were laid.

In the other, Rev. George Smith was convicted and permanently removed from the priesthood. Smith's offences happened in Newfoundland and Labrador, however those past allegations arose when he was working in P.E.I. He was immediately removed from his duties on the Island at the time. 

Bishop Grecco says starting in the new year, all parish priests, staff and volunteers will be asked to complete an online course on protecting vulnerable people. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Grecco said Charlottetown's diocese also created clear policies a decade ago, aimed at limiting the risk of abuse or other misconduct. 

Among them, parish staff and volunteers who do any work with children are required to produce criminal record checks.  They're also not permitted to be left alone with children. 

New course to protect vulnerable people 

Grecco said the diocese is also stepping up its efforts to ensure those rules are understood and followed. 

Starting in the new year, all priests, staff and volunteers will be asked to complete an online course on protecting vulnerable people. 

The course was produced by the diocese's insurance company — Ecclesiastical Insurance, which represents 25 Catholic dioceses across the country. 

"It's important that anyone in a position of trust, in any organization, not just in the church, that brings them into contact with children, youth, and vulnerable adults, understands their roles and responsibilities," said Colin Robertson, the company's vice-president of operations and risk control. 

This new online course was produced by the Charlottetown diocese's insurance company, Ecclesiastical Insurance. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Robertson acknowledges past abuse cases have led to insurance payouts by his company.   

"But this is beyond insurance. This is about doing the right thing, protecting communities, providing individuals with the tools and capability they need," he said. 

Grecco said there won't actually be a requirement to take the course. Instead, the focus will be on "persuading people that it's important."

He said he's also asked that insurance agents start stopping into P.E.I. parishes, double checking that staff and volunteers have criminal record checks, and are following all the diocese's rules aimed at preventing abuse. 

"It's absolutely critical to get this right," he said. "The credibility of the church depends on it. We've suffered enormously. And we've almost imploded.… [The public] want to see signs we're taking action and we are."

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