Catholic priests in Montreal banned from being alone with children

Jun 25, 2016

By Harriet Sherwood

Catholic priests in Montreal will be banned from being alone with children to provide a “safety net” against allegations of abuse.

Archbishop Christian Lepine has issued a decree to implement the policy, which also covers lay workers and volunteers.

According to the decree, the move was to “ensure the safety and integrity of the people to whom we bring the Gospel message and offer our pastoral care”. But, it added, it was also “to preserve the integrity, security and good reputation of God’s people”.

In an accompanying letter, Lepine said: “Recent events brought to light the horrific reality of abuse of minors and vulnerable people by members of the church. These intolerable situations have shocked and shaken the Universal Church as well as the entire population.”


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17 comments on “Catholic priests in Montreal banned from being alone with children

  • From the article:

    The policy would cover anyone “in the orbit of the church” to create a “safety net”, Canon Francois Sarrazin told the Canadian Press.

    “Imagine if you are alone in a room and a child accuses you of hitting them, how will you react?” Sarrazin said. “Whether it’s true or not, you need a witness. Not being in the room alone with someone who is vulnerable is simply being prudent.”

    Hmm. Who is the victim here?

    It’s completely unbelievable that any child or vulnerable person would be led into this organization by an adult when there is a policy in place that states that the clergy cannot be trusted to be alone in the room with that child. What will it take for women to perceive the threat to their own children.



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  • 2
    Cairsley says:

    To LaurieB #1

    It’s completely unbelievable that any child or vulnerable person would be led into this organization by an adult when there is a policy in place that states that the clergy cannot be trusted to be alone in the room with that child. …

    Laurie, you make a good point!

    When I was growing up as (pace Prof. Dawkins) a Catholic child, the priest was regarded as an embodiment of holiness, godliness and what have you, on account of his soul being indelibly marked through the sacrament of holy orders and the power of the Holy Spirit. The priest’s trustworthiness was implicitly taken for granted by all the faithful members of the flock lovingly shepherded by the priest, and children were quite naturally the object of the priest’s attention in his pastoral duties, for their dear souls had to be instructed in the ways of salvation. The priest was seen quite literally as a sacred, sacramental presence of Jesus himself in the local community. Christians who have grown up in a Protestant community (even most Anglicans) are not aware of this sacramental way of thinking in traditional Catholic communities, and in a case like this, where Archbishop Lepine has set down rules limiting the presence of the priest with children for reasons of prudence, they may not appreciate quite what a perceptual difference this implies with regard to the Roman Catholic clergy.

    Indeed, how can children grow up regarding the priest as implicitly trustworthy and as an embodiment of all that is holy, good and true, etc. when regulations are considered necessary to protect children and other vulnerable people by ensuring that the priest is never alone with them? This, of course, is good not only as a protection against the abuse of children and vulnerable others and as a safeguard of the church’s good name and so on, but also as a blow to the exalted status that the priest has traditionally enjoyed among the faithful. The priesthood has been losing its lustre as a vocation for young Catholic men for some time now, and something like this, if it is adopted more widely, may well result in children growing up with the sense that the priest is someone to keep at a safe distance, along with whatever it is that he teaches.



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  • Cairsley

    Good point about the super human status of Priests in the RCC. I suppose there are plenty of Protestants who don’t understand the extent of the magical powers of the RCC Priests. Since I was a Methodist child, 🙁 I was aware of the groveling and fawning of the Catholics over their Priests. This is subtly scorned with eye rolling by the Methodists along with other aspects of that faith. Our Pastors were just regular family guys so although I was required to be respectful of them, I certainly didn’t see them as having magical powers. In fact, as a teen I made a number of snarky remarks to our guy that feel bad about now.

    Although I was a Methodist child, not by my choice, I would have chosen to identify as a Naturism, Feminist, Astrologist child/teen. Please pardon the astrology label but in my teens it was the only view I had to astronomy at that time. Also I believed that it gave me insights as to which boys would be right for me (scorpios!) Science classes in the 70’s were terrible or nonexistent. Our “astronomy” textbook was a glorified pamphlet, dusty and dull as dirt. The astrology books were colorful, glossy and riveting. At least I learned about the planets and solar system from them! Ah well. Another sad case of American public education.

    It wasn’t so tough to throw off the Methodist child label but when I was backed into a corner by someone once I hesitated to throw off the label Christian. It was like trashing hundreds of years of ancestors in that moment. The family could deal with my moving to a new religion but to trash all of Christianity in one sentence was a great fearful disappointment to them. I felt it.



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  • 4
    Cairsley says:

    To LaurieB #3

    This is subtly scorned with eye rolling by the Methodists along with other aspects of that faith.

    I had to smile at this, Laurie. I once worked in the civil service with a Methodist woman who one day somehow received a ticket to an outdoor mass with Pope John-Paul II, when he visited New Zealand some time back in the 1980s. Her horror of going anywhere near the Pope was evident, however polite she tried to be about it (shades of the Whore of Babylon!), and her solution was to let me have the ticket, kind woman that she was. I actually became quite good friends with her and her husband.

    The cultural and theological differences between Methodist and Roman Catholic clergy were pretty stark, so it does not surprise me that the Catholic clergy and the way they were treated by their parishioners caused some eye-rolling among you Methodists. The sacramental thinking at the heart of Roman Catholic theology is a belief in the supernatural being made present in the natural here and now through certain liturgical signs and actions, so, yes, it was a belief in magical powers, though of course, if one believes in the reality of the supernatural, it does not seem so.

    Thinking about that mindset now gives me the creeps. At the same time, it amuses me to see how Archbishop Lepine’s directive against priests being alone with children is an implicit contradiction, at least in practice, of the sacramental faith that underpins the Catholic priesthood. In any case, if the priest as human being cannot be trusted, what difference does the priest as Jesus sacramentally (magically) present really make? I see this as another crack in the wall of a delapidated, crumbling church in a world where it is fast losing credibility.



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  • Cairsley #4
    Jun 26, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    The sacramental thinking at the heart of Roman Catholic theology is a belief in the supernatural being made present in the natural here and now through certain liturgical signs and actions, so, yes, it was a belief in magical powers, though of course, if one believes in the reality of the supernatural, it does not seem so.

    Indeed so! The regular ritual crossing of themselves is akin to the 5 a day prostrations towards Mecca!



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  • @cairsley #2

    The priest’s trustworthiness was implicitly taken for granted by all the faithful members of the flock

    True. Except, a nugget passed down in my family, a revelation from an older relative, information passed (perhaps in a whisper) to my mother when she first became a mother, by older and wiser relations (not sure who, but someone in the community, grandmother or great-aunt perhaps, this would have been in Ireland in the 1950s): “Keep the priests away from your boys”.

    Really, I’m not kidding. It seems it was nod-and-a-wink, word to the wise, a piece of common folk wisdom, don’t speak out, but protect your own. Never mentioned directly, still total immersion catholic upbringing, but the priests were more distant figures, respected and revered, but never actually trusted with anything in the real world.

    It has me thinking of predators and prey. Prey animals don’t rise up against the predator, they just try not let their own offspring be the ones that get taken. Priests as dangerous predators, looming black-clad unknowables. Vampires, maybe. Especially as the one taken by the vampire becomes a vampire, how this abuse passes down from generation to generation.



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  • It’s complying with standard practice surely. As a junior sports coach in the UK for over 20 years, I have been ‘banned’ from being alone with athletes at all times. I cannot be in a one to one situation in the changing room, I can’t give them a lift home and if parents are late picking them up after a session I can’t wait alone with them. Even if they get injured I have to be extremely careful on how I deal with it.
    This is to protect me as much as the child.



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  • 9
    Cairsley says:

    To Lancshoop #7

    It’s complying with standard practice surely. As a junior sports coach in the UK for over 20 years, I have been ‘banned’ from being alone with athletes at all times.

    Thanks, Lancshoop, that is another approach to the point I was making, that the Catholic priest is just another man, not a divinely consecrated vicar of the God-man to be trusted and respected without question. I wonder whether Archbishop Lepine realizes how contrary this approach is to the traditional Catholic beliefs and practices concerning the priesthood.



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  • 10
    Cairsley says:

    To OHooligan #6

    When I lived in the UK at the end of the 1980s and in the early 1990s, I became aware that there was what I felt to be more of an institutional cynicism about life in the church and more matters, including sexual irregularities, to be cynical about in the church communities there, most of which were much older than New Zealand. There was some of this sort of thing occurring from time to time — I recall two times during my teens when gossip did the rounds that Father So-and-So had been moved elsewhere under something of a cloud, but, as you said of Ireland in the past, specifics were left unspoken. It was understood, after all, that frail human nature may in some cases fall short of the perfection required of such high office. There have been a few public scandals about paedophile priests in New Zealand in the last thirty years or so, but I suspect I grew up in a more innocent, less sophisticated Catholic community than those in older countries.

    Associating priests automatically with child-molesters still strikes me as very unfair on the great majority of priests who have been are are nothing of the sort. The great evil in this case is the Catholic Church’s arrogance and dishonesty and many other vices that have led its leaders to hide guilty priests’ wrongdoing to spare itself any humiliation or shame. Under that sort of leadership the problem of paedophile priests could only become worse and entrenched.



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  • OHooligan – Cairsley

    I recall two times during my teens when gossip did the rounds that Father So-and-So had been moved elsewhere under something of a cloud,

    Yes rumours were whispered in close circles from times way, way back!

    Skeleton in the closet!!!

    There was an English great uncle of mine who was a church minister, but encountered an inconvenient pregnancy, which was going to land him in hot water.

    He did what clergy in such situations usually did in such circumstances!

    He emigrated to America and became a preacher in a mission church where he remained until he died of old age at over 90! – Marrying a succession of wealthy widows all of whom he out lived except the last one!



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  • I often wonder if the Priests really believe that they are performing the miracle of transubstantiation or do they realize early on in their training that this is a ruse that they will now be expected to perform for their audience for the rest of their careers.



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  • 13
    Cairsley says:

    To LaurieB #12

    Having studied for the priesthood myself in seminaries (but not gone through with ordination) and had close associations with many priests before and after those seminary years, I would say that most of them do believe in the eucharistic mystery you refer to. Belief in the “Real Presence” (of Jesus Christ, body, soul and spirit, human and divine) under the species of bread and wine is one of the bedrocks of Catholic faith. Some priests, mind you, are not so mindful of such doctrines in their ministry, finding more satisfaction in other aspects of their work, such as issues of justice and social welfare. If you press some of these on a doctrinal matter like transubstantiation, you can get some pretty woolly responses that leave you wondering whether they see any significance in the doctrine at all. But they would never deny the doctrine, for they would still see it as part of the institution in which they carry out their ministry of love and justice.



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  • Paedophiles who abuse children are sick people who need help and children need to be protected from them. It is the people who know that they are abusing children and do nothing to stop them who are the real disgusting criminals and their behaviour is totally beyond my understanding.



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  • @cairsley #10

    Associating priests automatically with child-molesters still strikes me as very unfair on the great majority of priests who have been are are nothing of the sort. The great evil in this case is the Catholic Church’s arrogance and dishonesty and many other vices that have led its leaders to hide guilty priests’ wrongdoing

    Exactly. I recommend the movie “Calvary” (2014) which dramatises this very issue. In brief, and without spoiling anything that’s not revealed in the opening minutes, it’s a victim of covered-up abuse who turns his wrath not on the offender, but on a Good Priest, whom he regards as a more appropriate representative of the organization responsible for the cover-ups. How it plays out is well worth watching.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2234003/

    On whether or not priests “believe all that stuff”, I recommend the Irish comedy series “Father Ted”. No links here, google it yourself, I don’t want this post to go in the spam bin for eventual moderation.



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  • 17
    Cairsley says:

    To OHooligan #16

    I followed the Father Ted television series (it was broadcast here in New Zealand too) and greatly enjoyed its irreverent and hilarious perspective on the Irish Catholic clergy.

    With regard to whether or not “priests believe all that stuff”, I wonder whether there was a significant difference between Ireland and New Zealand for most of the twentieth century, in that Irish society then was overwhelmingly Catholic and a priest who no longer believed the doctrines and wanted to leave the priesthood would have faced much more opposition and shame than his counterpart in New Zealand would have. Here a priest who wanted to leave the priesthood, even if he had been refused laicization, would have been able to pack his bag and walk away to start a new life, simply because the Catholic Church was relatively so small here and the rest of society cared so little about religion. The social realities in Ireland would have worked to keep priests who had ceased to believe the doctrines of Catholic faith in their high-status positions, compared with the relative freedom in a new and mostly irreligious country like New Zealand for such priests to leave their positions meant that priests here tended to be in earnest about their beliefs (though some, as I mentioned earlier, did not care so much about theological doctrines so much as evangelical values). I never visited Ireland, so you may need to correct the comparison I have made here; but even in England I noticed that there was a high level of cynicism (compared with what I was used to) among the priests.



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