MONTREAL — Determined to “eradicate the scourge” of sexual abuse in his diocese and in the church, Archbishop Christian Lépine of Montreal has appointed an independent ombudswoman on abuse.
The archbishop appointed Marie Christine Kirouack, a lawyer with extensive experience in family law and crisis intervention, to the position. Her task will be to receive all complaints of abuse and inappropriate behavior committed by priests, pastoral staff, employees of the archdiocese and volunteers of the Archdiocese of Montreal, he said at a news conference May 5.
With her appointment, the archbishop said, the Archdiocese of Montreal has implemented more than half of the 31 recommendations to fight sexual abuse issued in a November 2020 report by former judge Pepita G. Capriolo.
Capriolo emphasized that the position of ombudsman needed to be entrusted to “a layperson, completely independent of the church.”
Kirouack said she’s Jewish, and she’ll be working with a team.
At the briefing, Capriolo also explained that admissible complaints will not be limited to sexual abuse.
“All forms of abuse will be taken seriously,” she said, noting that included psychological, physical, spiritual and financial abuse. In addition, reports of inappropriate behavior, such as delivering a racist or misogynistic homily, throwing a tantrum, or showing up to church or a meeting in an intoxicated state, will also be received by the ombudsman.
Within 24 hours, the ombudsman will refer all complaints of abuse received to an advisory committee, which will meet within seven days and make recommendations to the archbishop: The need for an independent investigation, removal of the priest from ministry, suspension of an employee, or closure of the file.
Any inappropriate behavior complaint will be received by the vicar general or the director of the Office of Pastoral Personnel, who must respond within 48 hours. It is always the ombudsman who will be the link between the victim and the Catholic authorities.
Alleged victims “will be received with deference and listening,” said Kirouack. She specified that she “will not force anyone to file a complaint” but that “if the person so desires,” her job will be “to collect his complaint and to ensure its follow-up.” She also said she would accompany the victims or complainants throughout the process.
“I will be available if a person wants me to accompany them to file a complaint with the police or to be at their side during a canonical or criminal trial,” she added.
“I invite anyone who has been the victim of inappropriate actions to contact the ombudsman without delay,” Lépine said. He emphasized that all citizens, staff and clergy “have a responsibility and an obligation to report to the ombudsman any situation that constitutes abuse or could be abuse,” regardless of when the event may have occurred.
Gloutnay is a staffer at Presence info in Montreal.