Indigenous·CBC Investigates

Police hunted for secret church archives during probe of abuse allegations at St. Anne's residential school

Police investigating widespread allegations of physical and sexual abuse at St. Anne’s Indian residential school in northern Ontario looked for secret church archives that would have contained sensitive information about priests.

Former principal denied existence but experts say records of sensitive information about priests were kept

Police investigating widespread allegations of abuse at St. Anne’s Indian residential school in northern Ontario looked for secret church archives that would have contained sensitive information about priests. (National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Archives)

When OPP Det. Greg Delguidice was preparing to look into widespread allegations of physical and sexual abuse by priests, nuns and staff at St. Anne's Indian Residential School in northern Ontario, he did some homework first.

As part of the investigation 25 years ago, Delguidice studied up on the Roman Catholic Church's canon law and learned of archives held by dioceses that contain records of sensitive information about priests.

"I know that the Catholic Church also keeps a secret archive, and matters of temporal affairs, as they're so-called, are supposed to be kept secret and hidden away," Delguidice said in an interview with The Fifth Estate's Gillian Findlay.

"Any allegations that would have been made would have been, in my view, probably kept in secret archives somewhere."

But when Delguidice confronted Bishop Emeritus Jules Leguerrier, who had been St. Anne's principal from 1944 to 1975, about the "secret archives," he got nowhere.

OPP Det. Greg Delguidice tried to get secret archives. 0:44

Delguidice said he challenged Leguerrier after a search of the Moosonee diocese in 1994.

"I spoke back and forth with him for about 10 minutes on the matter," said Delguidice, "and basically said, I know you're supposed to tell me that you don't have secret archives, but you're supposed to have secret archives."

Delguidice said Leguerrier responded saying, "No, no. There's nothing like that."

No archives found

The OPP executed several other search warrants during the investigation, including at the Fort Albany Mission House, the Oblates offices in Montreal and Ottawa, along with a Sisters of Charity building in Ottawa.

None of the searches unearthed a secret archive, said Delguidice.

"Outside of the one reference to the electric chair in one of the historical codexes, there were no allegations that were evident in any of the records that we found."

Delguidice said he could only go so far in a search.

"I wasn't about to start tearing down the walls in the diocese building to try and find something that may or may not have been there."

Bishop Emeritus Jules Leguerrier was confronted by police about the secret archives. (National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Archives)

Delguidice said he concluded during the investigation that the abuse at St. Anne's was systemic and committed openly.

"I mean, if the principal of the school is going around publicly whipping people for insubordination of any kind, surely to God they knew what was going on."

Which is why he searched for secret archives.

"The code of the canon law says that they'll keep all records of everything that happens every day, much like police officers do with their notebooks," he said.

But he came up empty.

Denial maintained

Leguerrier maintained a wall of denial in the face of the OPP investigation until his death in 1995.

Delguidice said the OPP was preparing to charge him with assault for whipping a girl 10 times and bloodying her nose in December 1950.

"By the time the charge phase came around, he was dead," Delguidice said.

Leguerrier was named more than 400 times in interviews with the OPP and in evidence submitted by survivors during the residential school compensation hearings, known as the Independent Assessment Process, which produced person of interest reports on individuals accused of abuse.

The OPP investigated widespread allegations of physical and sexual abuse by priests, nuns and staff at St. Anne's Indian residential school in Northern Ontario. (National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Archives)

Another Oblate priest who worked at St. Anne's, Father Arthur Lavoie, was named in more than 300 complaints of physical and sexual abuse, according to his person of interest report.  

One survivor testified that Lavoie sexually assaulted him using holy water as a lubricant. The survivor said he was raped between 20 to 25 times by Lavoie over three years.  

Lavoie died in 1991.

'They do know'

While Leguerrier maintained there were no archives, that position is rejected by experts who say that all Catholic Church dioceses and orders kept secret archives.

Thomas Doyle, a former Dominican priest and tribunal judge with the Archdiocese of Chicago, said Leguerrier lied to Delguidice when he denied the existence of the secret archive.

"That's a lie. They do know," said Doyle, who has been called as an expert witness more than 500 times in civil cases around the world on behalf of Catholic Church abuse victims.

Canon law expert says church keeps secret archives. 0:36

Doyle, who wrote a 1985 report warning that the Catholic Church faced a child sex abuse crisis, said all dioceses and orders follow canon law that dates back to about the 10th century. And they all keep a secret archive accessible only by the bishop.

He said the secret archive was originally conceived to keep things like records of "secret marriages" or "secret ordinations to the priesthood" in areas where the Catholic Church was persecuted.

"It's part and parcel with the structure of the Catholic Church."

The secret archives are now playing a central role in the global sex abuse scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church.

In August 2018, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released a grand jury report based on files obtained from the secret archives that revealed more 300 priests abused more than 1,000 children in the state over 70 years.

Records transferred

But in Canada, there has been no acknowledgment or discovery of secret Catholic Church archives.

The Catholic Church was required to turn over all records related to residential schools as part of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement finalized in 2006.

The records were transferred to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was created by the settlement agreement to probe the history of residential schools.

However, none of the documents provided by the Catholic Church to the TRC resembles what was found in the secret archives of the Pennsylvania dioceses.

Doyle said that the Catholic Church can't be trusted to willingly turn over all records and must be forced to do so through the muscle of law enforcement.

"You're not going to get this information voluntarily. You have to take it," said Doyle.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Quebec said in a statement sent to The Fifth Estate that they complied with the requirements of the settlement agreement.

Father Arthur Lavoie, left, was named in more than 300 complaints of physical and sexual abuse. (National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Archives)

"One aspect of our participation in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a sharing of our documentation on residential schools, including St. Anne's in Fort Albany," said the statement.

The statement said the documents are now in the hands of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.

Among the records turned over by the Oblates to the TRC were the personnel files for Leguerrier and Lavoie.

The files contained newspaper clippings about an OPP citation given to Lavoie and the announcement of Leguerrier's appointment as Vicar Apostolic of James Bay.

No 'objective assessments'

Ry Moran, executive director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, which is the repository for all historical residential school files gathered by the TRC, said the Leguerrier and Lavoie files contained little of value.

"The information within these files are largely complimentary and do not contain any objective assessments or evaluations," said Moran.

Tom McMahon, former general counsel for the TRC, said the document production from the Catholic Church was "appalling."

McMahon said of the about 88 separate Catholic Church entities that were signatories to the settlement agreement, very few actually turned over records. He said most of the records came from more "corporate level" archives.

"We have no ability to know how thorough the record disclosure was," he said. "We know that they fought to limit the definitions of relevance where no other party engaged in the same kind of fight."

The OPP was going to charge Bishop Emeritus Jules Leguerrier, far right, seen here in 1947, with assault. (National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Archives)

McMahon said the TRC did not receive any records on the existence of secret archives.

"I suspect records that related to child abuse and such would wind up in in Rome, in the Vatican, and may not necessarily be held within individual parishes, but that is a guess on my part," he said.  

Some residential school survivors are still calling on the Catholic Church to hand over all its residential school-related documents.

St. Anne's residential school survivor Evelyn Korkmaz called for the release of all the church's residential school files during a Feb. 20 media conference on the eve of Pope Francis's Vatican summit on the Catholic Church's global sex abuse crisis.

"I would also like [Pope Francis] to release these documents of abuse and let us rewrite the Canadian history, the true Canadian history," said Korkmaz, who spoke at the media conference organized by the group Ending Clergy Abuse.  

The TRC report found that 68 per cent of the compensation claims came from survivors who attended Catholic Church-run schools.

Some of the patterns outlined in the TRC report — priests leaving a trail of abuse, a convicted child abuser recommended to head residential schools, a bishop charged with rape — are familiar to Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian.

In 2002, Garabedian obtained a $10-million settlement for 86 people abused by Father John Geoghan of the Boston Archdiocese.

His work was featured in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation and the Oscar-winning film Spotlight that examined clergy sex abuse and the coverup of it in the Boston archdiocese.

Pivotal to the case

Garabedian said it took him years to get the secret files, which proved pivotal to his case because of the details they contained.

"They talk about accusations, naming the priest, naming the victim, naming the victim's parents, where the abuse took place, whether the priest was in a home for a treatment centre," said Garabedian.

"It is really quite a bit of information and it is all ugly, evil and criminal."

The repercussions from the discovery of the secret archive are still felt today, he said.

"It was what eventually led to providing the truth as to the clergy sexual abuse coverup and clergy sexual abuse itself and having Cardinal [Bernard] Law removed from the diocese," said Garabedian.

"It triggered many victims from around the world to come forward."