Archbishop Richard Smith has welcomed the new CCCB guidelines on preventing child sex abuse and is pledging to take their calls for accountability and transparency to heart.

“The first thing I want to highlight is my message - our message - to the victims of sexual abuse by clergy, some of whom are here in the Archdiocese of Edmonton,” the Archbishop said at a news conference with journalists and staff on October 19 at St. Joseph Seminary.

“The message is simple: what you experienced should never have happened, and we are very, very sorry. We know that such abuse leaves a long and lasting scar, not only on you, the individual victim, but also on your family. As we continue to move forward on this issue, it is your interest that must, and will, come first in everything we do. The Archdiocese, and I personally, are committed to that.”

The Canadian bishops endorsed the new document, Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse, at their plenary assembly in September. It contains 69 recommendations or action points, with a strong focus on listening to and caring for victims. The bishops heard from one victim of clergy abuse at their meeting.

“It was a courageous and moving testimony,” Archbishop Smith said. “It strengthened my resolve, and I believe it fair to say the resolve of every bishop, to do everything possible to prevent abuse, to respond decisively to allegations, and to work with victims and their families toward healing.”

He noted that many of the recommendations have already been met in the Archdiocese of Edmonton through its abuse prevention protocols. For example, if the Archdiocese is informed of abuse involving a minor, the police will be told without delay. Teresa Kellendonk, the archbishop’s delegate for abuse complaints, said the archdiocese would then wait for the police investigation to be complete before investigating any further. If the allegation involves a priest, he is immediately suspended from ministry while the investigations continue. There is also a review committee involving laypersons and professionals, so nobody has any chance of covering up. 

“But we cannot ever be complacent and must always seek ways to do better,” the Archbishop said. “So we will be reviewing our practices and protocols in light of the 69 recommendations in this document, to make sure they are the best they can possibly be.”

In the interests of transparency, he said a list of priests who have served in the Archdiocese and been convicted of abusing children in the past will be published on the archdiocesan website.

The Archbishop said the new guidelines call for an end to the culture of secrecy that surrounded sexual abuse in the past.

“There were many reasons for this secrecy, among them: a misplaced desire to protect the reputations of individuals and the Church as a whole, a desire among clergy to protect their brothers, and a fear of alerting other victims and raising more allegations. In many cases, on legal advice, victims who were offered compensation or access to counselling were required to sign confidentiality agreements. In other cases they were verbally warned not to speak of their experience. The result was that many suffered in silence. That's all wrong. It can no longer be the way abuse is dealt with."

"I am committed to ensuring that no victim is treated this way in this Archdiocese. We recognize that in order to heal, victims need to be able to speak freely about what they have experienced. If they have been abused at the hands of a priest or anyone else representing the Archdiocese, we invite them to come forward. 

"We recognize that disclosing sexual abuse is very difficult and painful; we shall always respect the privacy of victims and receive them with sensitivity. But I will not demand secrecy on their part, and I also will not hold any past victims to confidentiality agreements they may have signed in the past.”

The Archbishop described sex abuse in the Church as a great betrayal.

"It is ultimately a betrayal of Christ himself, who calls on the ordained to act in his name and be instruments of his love and compassion. As a bishop, I share in the pain and shame of that betrayal. And I am personally committing to do everything I can to prevent such betrayals in the future."

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