As It Happens

Jesuits of Canada to release names of priests 'credibly accused' of sexually abusing minors

After years of silence about sexual abusers within its ranks, one branch of the Catholic church in Canada says it's ready to name names. 

Father Erik Oland says he hopes the move will pave a path to 'reconciliation' with victims

The Jesuits of Canada, a religious order of the Catholic Church, says it will release the names of priests accused of sexual abuse, including those who were never charged. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Read Story Transcript

After years of silence about sexual abusers within its ranks, one branch of the Catholic church in Canada says it's getting ready to name names. 

The Jesuits of Canada, a religious order of the Catholic Church, has promised to release the names of all its priests who have been "credibly accused" of sexually abusing minors over the last 60 years by January 2021.

This is believed to be the first time a major religious order in Canada has promised a disclosure on this scale. 

"Preparing to release names now at this point in the whole process, it would be our desire to not just respond with financial compensations, but really to move toward true reconciliation," Montreal's Father Erik Oland, provincial of the Jesuits of Canada, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

'It's based on believing the victim'

The order has hired King International Advisory Group, a third-party risk assessment organization, to comb through Jesuit personnel files dating back to 1950. This will include files from lawsuits brought against Jesuit-run residential schools in Canada.

Oland says the order is defining "credible" allegations as any case where it appears "more likely than not" that an offence occurred.

That means the list of names may include priests who were never criminally charged or convicted, and those who have died.

"It's a lower bar, and really it's based on believing the victim even though the victim has chosen not to proceed with either criminal or civil charges," Oland said. 

Father Erik Oland is leading the Canadian effort to publicly disclose the names of accused sexual abusers in the Jesuits of Canada. (Jesuits of Canada)

After King International conducts its audit, it will hand over its list of recommended names to the Jesuits of Canada. The order will then decide which of those names to make public.

The public list will also include a rundown of where the accused priests have worked.

"Part of our whole audit is to really study what those accusations were and to receive the report, and from there make contact with the people who brought these accusations and ask them how they feel about it," Oland said.

"Because, of course, potentially in naming one of the accused for whom there were credible accusations, we also risk naming the victim. And so we have to be very sensitive to that."

Several U.S. churches have released similar lists of "credibly accused" clergy members after a 2018 grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania revealed priests in that state had abused more than 1,000 children.

But those lists haven't always been as transparent as promised. 

Buffalo, N.Y., Bishop Richard J. Malone stepped down earlier this month after a whistleblower accused him of personally removing almost half the names from his church's list before making it public.

The whistleblower, Malone's former assistant Siobhan O'Connor, spoke to As It Happens in early December. 

Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, who has been accused of covering up or mishandling the abuse of dozens of minors by priests in his diocese, admitted no wrongdoing when he stepped down voluntarily in early December. (Gregory A. Shemitz/Reuters)

In November, the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver released the names of seven priests with criminal convictions or lawsuits settled against them related to sexual abuse.

Earlier that month, CBC's The Fifth Estate revealed the diocese was aware of 36 cases of abuse by clergy under its jurisdiction, including 26 involving children.

The Vancouver diocese did not release the names of priests who have not been charged or convicted. 

History of Jesuit abuse 

Since 2000, the Jesuits of Canada have received 14 complaints of abuse in English Canada and about five in French Canada, Oland told the Globe and Mail. Many of those are historical cases involving priests who are no longer alive, he said. 

He said six accused Jesuits are currently working in a "restricted" capacity in Canada, meaning they don't have any direct contact with the public in their day-to-day work.

George Epoch stands in the quad of Loyola College in Montreal, in this 1957 photo. (Submitted by Dorio Lucich)

Two Jesuit clergymen whose names have already been brought to light are Rev. George Epoch and Brother Norman Hinton, who were named in a class-action lawsuit over abuse at Jesuit-run residential school in Ontario. Both have since died. 

Epoch is accused of sexually abusing more than 100 children. Oland called him "a serial abuser" and "a very sick man."

On Tuesday, Pope Francis — who is a Jesuit — instructed that the Catholic Church can no longer apply its "pontifical secrecy" rule in sex abuse cases.

The rule, which is meant to protect sensitive information in the church, has been used to cover up widespread abuse.

Oland says the timing of the Pope's announcement is entirely coincidental. But he welcomes the move, which he says will make it easier for churches to expose not only abusers, but also those who enable them. 

"We know who the enablers were," he said.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Erik Oland produced by Chris Harbord.