Church had duty to flag allegations: lawyers
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MONCTON, N.B. - A Roman Catholic diocese in New Brunswick should have notified police immediately when it heard last year that two priests were alleged to have sexually abused children, say two lawyers who have represented victims of abuse by clergymen.
Robert Talach and John McKiggan say the Archdiocese of Moncton had a responsibility to refer the matter to the RCMP once it became aware of the accusations.
"You name me any other institution, school board, a daycare, or a boys' home that would not immediately react with disgust and outrage and drag the information down to the police station before the end of that same day," Talach said Thursday from his London, Ont., office.
But a spokesman for the archdiocese said it is up to the alleged sex abuse victims to report their allegations to the police.
Donald Langis said former Supreme Court of Canada justice Michel Bastarache informed the archdiocese of the accusations after hearing them during a reconciliation and compensation process for alleged victims of sexual abuse involving another priest.
Langis said as a result, the archdiocese is a third party in the matter and not obligated to go to police.
Bastarache agreed with Langis, saying the Church can't report accusations to police when it doesn't have direct knowledge of what may have happened nor the identities of the alleged victims.
"The bishop can't give them the names because he doesn't have them and I can't give them because I have a confidentiality agreement with the victims," Bastarache said in an interview from Ottawa.
"It has to be a victim that goes to the police and not somebody with third-party information."
Bastarache said he encouraged the alleged victims to go to the police.
But Talach said that because Bastarache is working for the archdiocese, it has a duty to report the allegations to police.
McKiggan echoed that position.
"Mr. Bastarache is the lawyer for the diocese, so any information communicated to Mr. Bastarache is information being communicated to the diocese," McKiggan said from Halifax. "They are required to act on that information."
The archdiocese announced last weekend that Rev. Yvon Arsenault, 70, was ordered on July 4, 2012, not to carry out any duties as a priest. Arsenault also retired in July.
Rev. Irois Despres, 82, was also suspended last month, Langis said, though he retired in 1992.
Langis said he could not explain why the archdiocese took six months to inform the public that it had removed Arsenault. But he said the announcement came after the archdiocese received an interim report in December from Bastarache on the reconciliation and compensation process.
Bastarache is expected to deliver a final report to the archdiocese later this month.
Bastarache said he heard the allegations involving Arsenault and Despres from four or five people.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
The RCMP says it can't confirm if anyone is being investigated unless a charge is laid.
Talach is representing victims of a New Brunswick priest convicted of sexual assault in a lawsuit in a separate matter.
McKiggan was the lawyer for confirmed and alleged victims of sexual abuse at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish in Nova Scotia. The diocese concluded a $16-million compensation settlement late last year.
— By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.