The Current

Catholic Church cannot be trusted to deal with priests accused of sexual abuse, says lawyer

A new CBC investigation looks at why no Canadian Catholic diocese has ever released a list of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse.

'Don't just look at the perpetrator priest ... look at the criminal conspiracy': Rob Talach

Rob Talach is a lawyer based in London, Ont. He's taken the Catholic Church to court over 400 times for sex-related abuses. (CBC)

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The Catholic Church cannot be trusted or relied upon to address clerical sex abuse within their ranks in Canada, says a lawyer who has worked on more than 400 sex abuse-related cases.

"Why do we keep looking to the church to solve this problem?," asked Rob Talach, a lawyer based in London, Ont.

"I've been at this almost two decades and ... if I was holding my breath for the Catholic Church to change on this issue, I'd be a very rich hue of purple right now," he told The Current's interim host Laura Lynch.

"I just don't understand why they can't do something bold and definitive here, and [instead] always find a reason, a rationale, an excuse not to do the right thing."

A CBC investigation has obtained the results of an internal review of cases of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, dating back to the 1950s. 

The documents show the archdiocese was aware of 36 cases of abuse by clergy under its jurisdiction, including 26 involving children. The review also found three of their priests had fathered children. 

Watch: Survivor tells The Fifth Estate how abuse began when she was 14

Clergy sexual abuse survivor

3 years ago
Duration 0:37
Leona Huggins describes how the sexual abuse by her parish priest in Westminster, B.C., began in the 1970s, when she was 14.

In a statement, the archdiocese said findings from the review will be released on Friday. No Catholic entity in this country has ever made this kind of information public before.

The Fifth Estate's investigation also reveals details about how the archdiocese handled allegations of abuse. Some accused priests moved jurisdictions, and some went for treatment instead of being referred to police.

Talach said that instead of relying on the wider organization to act, Canada should explore "different policies in the prosecutor's office — that we don't just look at the perpetrator priest, that we go a little further and look at the criminal conspiracy that allowed them to carry on for decades." 

The Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver declined a request for an interview but said a representative would be made available in the coming days.

It said that it was "concerned about issues relating to sexual abuse and have been working on a comprehensive response." However, a letter from a lawyer for the archdiocese said it was unaware of claims that priests who committed offences wherever transferred or that appropriate authorities were not notified. 

The Current also requested an interview with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, but the organization declined.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said that 2018 guidelines stipulate that police must be informed of any complaint the church receives about abuse of a minor. (Tama 66/Pixabay)

In a statement, the organization said that 2018 guidelines stipulate that police must be informed of any complaint the church receives about abuse of a minor, and that it's up to the police whether to release the names of accused abusers. 

The organization also said it's up to individual bishops to decide whether to publicize the names of clergy who, while not charged or convicted, have been "credibly accused."

That decision must be reviewed "through the lens of privacy laws," and mindful of "the well-being of victims-survivors (some of whom do not wish for the names of their offenders to be published for fear they themselves will be re-victimized or identified)," the statement read.

Talach called the response "a very sophisticated dodge."

"The Catholic Church in Canada is organized when it comes to issues of abortion, birth control, euthanasia — I mean, they can all get together and they can work in unison when it's something that meets their theology and their agenda," he said. 

The church's approach to sexual abuse within its ranks as more like "a fire drill," he told Lynch.

"They're all running around in a circle saying we're not organized, and we have to leave it up to individuals."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Karin Marley.