Archbishop Christian Lepine is seen in his office Wednesday, March 27, 2019, in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Montreal archdiocese names independent ombudswoman to investigate abuse complaints

Montreal archdiocese names independent ombudswoman to investigate abuse complaints

MONTREAL — The Montreal archdiocese has named an independent ombudswoman to handle complaints regarding abuse and other inappropriate behaviour connected to the Catholic Church.

Montreal lawyer Marie Christine Kirouack will fill the new role, which was created following the release of a report last November about how church officials mishandled the case of a convicted pedophile priest.

“My role is to ensure that no form of abuse or inappropriate behaviour will be tolerated in the Catholic Church of Montreal,” Kirouack told a virtual news conference on Wednesday. Her mandate officially began Monday and has no set term. She will file a public report detailing her activities.

The role of independent ombudswoman was a key recommendation in last November’s report by former Superior Court justice Pepita G. Capriolo, who was hired by the archdiocese to investigate how it handled the case of ex-priest Brian Boucher, sentenced to eight years in prison in 2019 for sexually assaulting two minors.

Capriolo concluded the church had a culture of secrecy, lacked accountability and was more interested in protecting the reputation of the convicted priest than of addressing the sexual abuse.

On Wednesday, Capriolo told reporters the new procedures to address abuse complaints were a welcome improvement.

“This is all new, and structured, and it includes outsiders,” Capriolo said of the new protocols. “So there’s a safety net just about at every step of the way of the process.”

Kirouack, who is Jewish and not affiliated with the church, is mandated to receive all allegations of abuse and other inappropriate behaviour from victims of all ages and to ensure those complaints are followed up in a timely manner.

Archbishop Christian Lépine told the news conference that with the addition of an ombudswoman, the church wants to break the cycle of silence and make sure all complaints of abuse and inappropriate behaviour don’t go undetected.

That extends to all forms of abuse — sexual, physical, psychological, spiritual or financial — committed by a priest, deacon, staff member or volunteer working within the archdiocese of Montreal.

“No one, no matter what the reason, will be able to turn a blind eye or shirk his responsibility in these matters,” Lépine said. “It is essential that we honour this commitment and remain vigilant.”

Kirouack said she will not force anyone to file a complaint with her office, but will accompany them if they decide to do so, noting that it’s “paramount that victims feel their voices are heard and they are supported.”

Church officials presented an elaborate set of procedures, with complaints referred to a new advisory committee composed of five lay members — four experts in various fields including policing, psychology, health and law, as well as one survivor of abuse — who will determine next steps. If an investigation is recommended, it will be done by an external firm.

While the policy dictates that neither Kirouack nor members of the committee will call police, Kirouack said she would help a complainant if they wish to take that route.

“I will accompany them to file a complaint with police if they so wish,” she said. “And I will be by their side during a canonical or criminal trial.”

Lépine said more than half of the report’s 31 recommendations have been implemented, adding that the rest are expected to be put into force by the end of 2021.

Another retired Superior Court judge, André Denis, is conducting a review of archdiocese files to identify any information that wasn’t properly vetted.

Denis is also auditing the files of five dioceses making up the ecclesiastical province of Montreal, looking at the years 1940 to 2020, with an eye on sexual abuse by priests who are living or deceased.

Lépine said the results of the audits are expected in the fall.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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