Saskatoon diocese updates policies to prevent abuse, misconduct in Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon has updated its policies around abuse and misconduct to ensure investigations of abuse are handled outside of the church.

One victim says he feels the changes will help, but any apology is 'just too late'

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon's pastoral centre, located off of Attridge Drive, is seen in this supplied photo. The diocese has been working to update policies around abuse and misconduct. (Submitted by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon)

A man who suffered at the hands of a serially abusive priest is welcoming changes made by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon aimed at preventing future abuses.

Over the last several months, the diocese has been working to update policies around abuse and misconduct, establishing several new positions outside of the bishop's office and the Saskatoon pastoral centre to receive and investigate claims of abuse.

The new positions include an intake officer, a serious misconduct investigator and a victim support co-ordinator.

Brenda FitzGerald, who led the committee reviewing and updating the policies, said positions such as the intake officer will be filled by people who have an academic and professional background in the field of sexual assault, abuse and trauma.

"This was a really significant move to ensure that we would have [a system] as open and as transparent and as ... sensitive to concerns of someone coming forward as possible, by not having the diocese investigate themselves," she said. "That was a major change."

Gary Mulligan, 73, was abused by Rev. William Hodgson Marshall while he attended Saskatoon's St.Paul's High School in the '60s. It's been reported that Marshall had a two-way mirror into the boy's locker room at the school and had abused several of his students.

Rev. William Hodgson Marshall, shown here in the 1955 Assumption College, was criminally convicted for abusing more than 20 boys. (Assumption College Yearbook, 1955)

In 1961, he was transferred out of Saskatoon to Ontario, where the abuses would continue. In 2011, Marshall pleaded guilty to 17 counts of indecent assault of minors and one count of sexual assault.

In total, Marshall was criminally convicted for abusing more than 20 boys in both provinces. He died in 2014.

Marshall died in 2014. (CBC)

Changes may help prevent future abuse

Although Mulligan has left the church and says religion no longer plays a role in his life, he said the establishment of the new positions will help. He said if they were created when he was a child, he could have approached the independent investigators, alongside the police.

"It's not going to do any harm, I can tell you that," he said in an interview Wednesday.

"I think maybe it will shut it down a bit, because now they know if there's an independent investigation, they can't hide. They can't hide under their own blanket." 

He feels there has been a change within the Catholic Church, rooted in Pope Francis clamping down on abuses at all levels. 

"I mean, back in the olden days if I would've went home and told my father and my mother that this particular priest abused me, I doubt if they would have believed me," he said. "That's why I didn't tell, but nowadays things have changed, and I pray that things change for the better and I think they have."

Pope Francis has grappled with allegations of abuse in dioceses around the world. (Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press)

In a news release about the changes outlined in the Saskatoon diocese, those with allegations of criminal misconduct are urged to contact police, noting the diocese "commits to fully co-operating with any police investigation." 

The diocese also updated its covenant of care, which outlines how clergy members, priests and people in other positions within the church are required to behave.

For example, it explains "all physical contact between employees or volunteers and children, youth or vulnerable adults must be appropriate to the ministerial relationship, and free of inappropriate, exploitative, harassing and/or sexual contact." 

It also outlines how employees and volunteers will "never be alone with a child, youth or vulnerable adult in a residence, sleeping facility, locker room, rest room, dressing facility, or other closed room or area that is inappropriate to a ministerial relationship." 

The document also restricts any diocesan employee or volunteer from being alone "in his or her living quarters or motor vehicle with a child, youth or vulnerable adult whose relationship has been established through a ministerial relationship." 

'Too late' for an apology

Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemoen said he wants his diocese to become a leader in addressing the issue here in the city.

"It is my hope and commitment that our church environments are leaders not only in implementing the best 'safe-environment' protocols, but also when dealing with disclosures of historical sexual and other types of abuse," the bishop said in a statement.
"The church must also be a leader in hearing the pain of past hurts and incidents, and providing for the healing of victims and all others affected by incidents of serious misconduct, including sexual abuse."

Bishop Mark Hagemoen says he wants his diocese to lead in being a safe environment, hearing the pain of past incidents and helping survivors heal. (CBC)

Asked if the Saskatoon diocese has any plans to issue a call to survivors to come forward or an apology to those who were abused as was done by the Archdiocese of Regina earlier this year, FitzGerald said it's her understanding these types of steps are "under discussion." 

For Mulligan, even after the abuses were known, he said he never received any offerings of support or an apology from the diocese. And now, he doesn't want one.
"I'm not interested in their help anymore. I don't need it," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, it is what it is. I can't change what happened, but I have changed as far as getting the whole thing out of my life. 
"An apology now is just too late," he said.