A Local Chapter of an International Story
The Catholic Church has been reeling for years as allegations of sexual abuse against children continue to make headlines all over the world. The scandal has been compounded by blatant attempts of church officials to protect the perpetrators. It has even been alleged that Pope Benedict XVI may have had a hand in protecting pedophiles prior to his appointment as pope.
In the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, the Catholic Church has been hit particularly hard by abuse scandals. Priests were systematically moved around the province to help them dodge allegations which allowed them to continue committing crimes against innocent children. Even if the facilitation of their crimes was not the intent, it was still the result of decisions made by an organization that knew they were putting children in harm’s way. The blame for these crimes does not only fall on the individuals who actually raped and molested children, but on those who allowed it to happen and assisted these sexual offenders avoid punishment. Many Nova Scotian communities are still experiencing the repercussions of these heinous crimes.
In 2002, Ronald Martin read his brother’s suicide note in which he alleged that he had been abused by Father Hugh Vincent MacDonald. MacDonald was charged with sexual abuse but died a year later before justice could be meted out. Martin went on to spearhead a class action lawsuit against the Diocese of Antigonish Nova Scotia. In 2009, after dozens more people came forward with allegations dating back 60 years, the supreme court of Canada approved a $15 million settlement for confirmed and alleged victims of priestly sexual predations.
The victimization did not end with the settlement; almost immediately after the trial, the victims were figuratively slapped in the face.
“I want to formally apologize to every victim and to their families for the sexual abuse that was inflicted upon those young people who were entitled instead to the trust and protection of priests of the church. I want them to know how terribly sorry we are, how wrong this abuse was, and how we are now trying to right these past wrongs." These are the words of Bishop Raymond Lahey.
Much of the settlement was negotiated by Lahey. Many people lauded both Lahey and Martin for coming to this unprecedented settlement. Shortly after announcing the settlement and apologizing, both to the victims and Martin directly, Lahey took a trip to Europe. Upon Lahey’s return to Canada his laptop was seized and he was charged with importation and possession of child pornography. Lahey pleaded guilty and was discharged the same day he was sentenced because of a law, which has since been repealed, that allowed pretrial custody to count as time served at a ratio of 2 to 1, thus Lahey largely avoided punishment. For the victims of the Catholic Church this was nothing new.
The Catholic Church has done everything possible to avoid taking responsibility for these crimes. It is only when they are backed into a corner with no other options that they admit wrongdoing, and even then, they add insult to injury with their obscene hypocrisy. So many victims have been denied justice over the years; many of the perpetrators have since died and the arm of the law is not long enough for them.
Doubly Victimized Communities
It is not only the direct victims who have been harmed by these crimes. The families have also been victimized by the fallout. The substance abuse, dysfunctional relationships, and suicides that have followed in the wake of these priestly predators continue to reverberate. It would be difficult to deny the long-lasting psychological impact atrocities like sexual abuse can have on victims and family members. What might be less obvious is the impact on the communities and members of the Church who put their trust and their hard-earned money into the hands of this international organization.
The church made its last installment of the settlement in 2012. In the end, it cost them $16 million. The money for this settlement did not come from the Vatican. The Pope did not sell his golden throne to pay the victims of the Catholic Church’s crimes. Instead, the Catholic Church in Nova Scotia has put 150 properties up for sale. These are properties bought over the years through donations from the community. They are donated land, baseball fields, playgrounds, and community halls. People have been donating their hard-earned money to the church for many years with the betterment of their communities in mind, only to see it squandered to pay for crimes they did not commit.
For the people of Nova Scotia, the Catholic Church raped their children and stole from them to pay for it; the results have been predictable. Churches are closing their doors all across the province as the few remaining faithful die from old age. It is good to see that the grip of the Catholic Church has finally gone limp, but the cost has been high for both communities and the direct victims of their atrocities.
Photo Credits: Osvaldo Cipriano