Vancouver Archdiocese uncovers 26 cases where minors sexually abused since 1950s
Published Friday, November 22, 2019 1:02PM PST Last Updated Friday, November 22, 2019 6:46PM PST
VANCOUVER -- A troubling new report from the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver has uncovered 26 local cases of clergy sexually abusing minors that "likely occurred" over the last 70 years.
In addition, the findings released Friday include the names of nine clergy members who were accused of abuse and either criminally convicted, criminally charged or involved in lawsuits that were settled out of court.
It's the result of a review of sexual abuse files that was ordered by Archbishop J. Michael Miller in 2018, while troubling allegations involving Catholic priests were surfacing around the world.
"Even though the brutality of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults is a widespread tragedy that affects every corner of society, it has taken the Catholic Church around the world far too long to address its particularly devastating consequences when that abuse is perpetrated by a priest, whom the faithful hold in a position of trust," Miller said in a letter included with the report.
"Such abuse readily leads to shame, confusion, guilt and loss of faith – all of which have painful, lifelong effects on victims."
That was true for Leona Huggins, who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of clergy as a child and is now a survivors' advocate.
"He came to visit and he brought pizza to the house and it was all just very lovely until it wasn't," she told CTV News. "I was a sitting duck."
Beyond the trauma from the abuse itself, Huggins said the experience left her feeling painfully isolated: "You're part of a big community, this happens to you and then you want to remove yourself."
In addition to the 26 cases involving minors that were identified in the report, the authors found 10 cases involving consensual adult relationships where an imbalance in power may have made them abusive.
Miller appointed a team of lawyers to review the files and present them to a committee of people from different backgrounds, including clergy members, prison chaplains, a psychologist and four victims – including Huggins.
In an attempt to pave a path forward, their report offers a list of 31 recommendations aimed at holding abusers accountable, encouraging people with allegations to come forward, and helping victims and their families.
"While committee members have differing views on a number of issues, all agree major change is needed," the report says, adding that Pope Francis has identified "clericalism" as a major catalyst of sex abuse in the Catholic Church.
"Clericalism is a system that gives the clergy immense influence over the laity, that exalts them with pomp and pageantry; it is a system and culture which many agree has enabled priests for too long to abuse their power and authority over others without any form of due accountability," the report says.
Twenty five of the committee's 31 recommendations were accepted in full by the RCAV. For example, the committee asked the RCAV to create an intake office staffed with individuals trained to deal with the complexities of sexual abuse to hear complaints. In response, RCAV said an office is set to be established in the first few months of 2020.
The other six recommendations, however, required further planning or collaboration with other groups, RCAV said.
One of those was a request to publicize the names of clerics who are guilty of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults. While RCAV included the names of the priests with criminal convictions, settled lawsuits or other public cases, their response said they were working to find a legal way to share information of those who haven't been convicted "but of whose guilt (they) are morally certain."
Some of the clergy members named in the report include:
- Paul J. Blancard, born 1940, who was investigated for the alleged sexual assault of a girl under the age of 10 in St. Helen's Parish in Burnaby in the 1960s. While he was never charged in connection with that incident, more allegations arose when he was in the Diocese of Victoria decades later, and he was convicted and jailed for one year in 1992.
- George Gordon, born 1915, who was charged in the abuse of three boys at the Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver that dated back to the 1950s. He was convicted in 1992 and sentenced to six months in jail. According to the report, though his abuse was reported "in some fashion" to the Archdiocese twice over the years, he remained in ministry until the victims came forward to police in 1989. He died in 2000.
- John McCann, born 1928, who was convicted in 1991 of six counts relating to the sexual abuse of girls under the age of 16 that occurred while he was serving at St. Augustine's Parish in Vancouver from 1972-73, and at St. Peter's in New Westminster from 1975-1990. He served 10 months in jail. He was removed from the church, but the report said he later served as a priest on Salt Spring Island and Ottawa. He died in 2018.
- Harold McIntee, born 1930, who was charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse, many involving boys in residential schools in the dioceses of Kamloops, Prince George and Victoria. He pleaded guilty and was given two years in prison plus three years' probation. He also worked as a chaplain at Youville Residence, a seniors' care facility in Vancouver, but there were no reports of abuse there. He died in 2016.
- Alfred Frank Louis Sasso, born 1934, who pleaded guilty to three counts of gross indecency against three youths in Ontario in 1980. He served three months in jail before coming to Vancouver, where he worked at the Cathedral, St. Patrick's Parish, and Sts. Peter and Paul parishes from 1981 to 1984. He abruptly returned to Ontario after that, and died in 1991.
Moving ahead, two independent, non-Catholic lawyers will take over processes for any future reports of sexual abuse by clergy. They've also been asked to look into files of priests who have been the subject of historic complaints.
RCAV said it will publish more names as it's able to. Melissa Godbout, the Vancouver Archdiocese spokesperson told CTV News the privacy laws are “stringent” in Canada so they are "releasing all of the names we are allowed to by law.”
But lawyer Rob Talach disputed that claim
“Other regulated professions that deal with youth, teachers, doctors, these types of folks, they are publicly listed on their regulatory bodies if they’ve conducted themselves in such a matter," Talach said.