The new independent ombudswoman designated to handle complaints connected to Montreal’s Catholic Church has released her first report, detailing dozens of allegations of abuse stemming from as early as the 1950s.
Lawyer Marie Christine Kirouack received 45 formal complaints over her first three months in her new role — 26 of which cite various forms of abuse ranging from sexual to financial.
“I hope this report will encourage other victims to come forward so we may stop all forms of abuse once and for all,” she wrote in the report from Aug. 17, which was released publicly Thursday.
The Montreal Archdiocese appointed Kirouack to the position last May. The independent ombudsman role was created following the release of a 2020 report about how church officials mishandled the case of ex-priest Brian Boucher, who was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2019 for sexually assaulting two minors.
In her first report, Kirouack found that of the 26 complaints regarding abuse, 22 of them were of a sexual nature. She says 15 of them stem from the 1950s to the early 1970s, “in religious-run schools which were not under direct supervision of the archdiocese but which operated within its territory.”
Kirouack said in a statement Thursday she “could feel the pain” of those who reached out to her.
She said the age of the alleged victims at the time of the incidents ranged from elementary school age to over 80 years old, but what they have in common is that all have suffered from the consequences of the abuse.
“In many cases, I was the first person they had told, the first person to believe them,” she said. “They told me what it meant to them to have their voices heard and how much they appreciated the process that has been set up to support them.”
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Archbishop Christian Lépine said the first report by Kirouack marks “another step toward recognizing those who have been victims.” He also encouraged anyone who suffered abuse to come forward.
“My heart goes out to all those who sounded the alarm but for whom there was little follow-up or investigation,” he said in a statement. “I want to express to you my deep regret for these failings, which we are resolved to overcome.”
Of the 19 other formal complaints, the report outlines 13 of them deal with problems between employees and clergy. Kirouack also received six submissions about other issues, including funerals and cemetery maintenance.
Emails, calls about residential schools
The independent ombudswoman for the Catholic Church said she was also contacted about how unmarked graves of Indigenous children were found at residential schools across the country over the summer.
In her report, Kirouack said she received a total of nine emails and calls “denouncing the atrocities” endured by Indigenous communities.
“Most of these emails requested a public apology from the Catholic Church, notably from each of the bishops in Quebec personally, but especially from the pope,” she wrote.
While Kirouack said the complaints fall outside of her jurisdiction, she noted it would be impossible for her to table the report without addressing residential schools. She also supports Indigenous communities in their quest for the truth, she added.
Kirouack said people also reached out to her about other issues that go beyond the scope of her role. These included requests and complaints about the COVID-19 pandemic and orphanages.
The report concludes that three months is a short amount of time to set up a new process to handle complaints, but the ombudswoman says she is hopeful that the system should be free of “technological or timing hiccups” by the end of September.
—with files from the Canadian Press