CANADA’S Roman Catholic bishops have launched a new system for reporting alleged sexual abuse committed by — or covered up by — a bishop.
The system furthers the commitment of the Catholic Church to protect minors and vulnerable persons from sexual abuse, Archbishop Richard Gagnon of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg said.
"We want to show the church takes this very seriously, that even the shepherds are accountable, to their members, to the Pope, to Christ," he said.
Gagnon, who is also president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the system will introduce an additional level of accountability for church leadership in Canada, alongside existing protocols for reporting and responding to sexual abuse or misconduct by priests, deacons and others people with authority.
The national and bilingual reporting system is in response to a global directive from Pope Francis that calls on Catholic dioceses to establish "one or more public, stable and easily accessible systems for submission of reports." It was developed in partnership with Clearview Strategic Partners, a Canadian company that provides independent ethics reporting and whistleblowing platforms.
"This is a way to hold bishops to account, to show that the church takes this very seriously," Gagnon said, adding it is also a way to build trust — something that has been lost over the years.
"We want to dispel the notion held by some that the church is still hiding abusers, that the church has not changed," he said. "Abuse is simply not tolerated."
Gagnon said it is "sad in a way that we need this at all, yet it is still important to do, no matter how sad it is."
Abuse survivors played a role in the system’s development, Gagnon said.
Archbishop Albert LeGatt of the Archdiocese of St. Boniface said the reporting system is "a clear expression at all levels of the church from the highest to the lowest that there is to be accountability and transparency."
It is "a whole of church effort, a focus on protecting victims and not trying to protect the church," he said, adding it’s a "simple and safe way to report abuse, a way for people to be confident it will be dealt with."
It’s also a way to prevent a bishop from stopping an investigation, LeGatt said, noting the need for the system comes "from the top — it’s a global directive from the Holy Father."
People seeking to file an report about a bishop can do so confidentially and anonymously at bishopreportingsystem.ca or by calling 1-866-892-3737.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.