While Roman Catholic churches in the United States struggle with the sexual abuse of minors by priests, church officials in Canada are working with guidelines created a decade ago that determine what to do when such cases arise.

The policy was adopted after a series of lawsuits were filed against residential schools for native people, known as aboriginals, by former students who say they were sexually, physically and psychologically abused when they were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to these institutions.

In 1992, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops passed a policy mandating quick action on allegations of sexual abuse against a priest and requiring the case to be reported to a bishop’s representative, whether the accusations seem “doubtful or appear to be founded in fact.” Similar principles adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that year were nonbinding.

The Canadian guidelines call for protecting children and “vulnerable adults,” taking allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and requiring priests and religious personnel to report every allegation of sexual misconduct “even if the alleged abuser is a colleague,” according to the policy published by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in a book called From Pain to Hope: Report from the Ad Hoc Committee on Child Sexual Abuse. An accused priest is placed on administrative leave until the investigation is complete.

“Even one act of abuse is too much,” said Monsignor Peter Schonenbach, general secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. “No one will say to a priest who has abused that it is fine to continue. If a priest abuses, his whole life changes with that. If a priest has abused and a complaint comes in and the bishop knows about the abuse . . . from that day on, the priest’s whole life will be different. He may remain a priest but will never do ministry again.” Although the sexual abuse scandals in the United States have brought unprecedented attention to the issue, some church officials say the problem is worldwide. Scandals have erupted recently in churches in Africa, Europe and Australia.

Across Canada beginning in the early 1800s, about 130 residential schools and dozens of day schools were built for aboriginal students. The schools, which were run by the churches under contract with the government, became known for the degradation and molestation of children.

In 1996, the year the last school closed, a government-appointed commission concluded that thousands of aboriginal students died in horrid conditions at the residential schools and thousands more were physically and sexually abused as a result of attempts by the churches and the government to “elevate the savages,” according to the report.

Last year four major churches in Canada – the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Presbyterian church and the United Church of Canada – issued a blanket apology to native people, asking for forgiveness for decades of abuse.

Since the public apologies, the government and churches have been hit with billions of dollars in lawsuits. Evidence emerged that as early as 1960, church and federal officials knew about the abuse but did nothing about it.

In June, the government created the Office of Indian Residential Schools Resolution, which was given the mandate to resolve lawsuits alleging abuse. More than 9,000 suits have been filed against the federal government. Of those filed against the churches, about 70 percent were filed against the Catholic church, 20 percent against the Anglican church and about 10 percent against the Presbyterian and United churches, according to Cindy Clegg, spokeswoman for the schools resolution office.

“Ninety-five percent of the claims involve sexual and physical abuse,” Clegg said. The federal government has spent about $33 million (Canadian) to settle about 450 of the cases. “We are out there settling victims with validated claims,” Clegg said. The government has agreed to pay 70 percent of the financial settlements to victims. Churches are responsible for the remaining 30 percent, a sum many say they cannot afford.

Source: Washington Post