MONTREAL — Since May 5, 2021, the phone has been ringing at least once a day at the home of Marie Christine Kirouack, the Montreal lawyer to whom Archbishop Christian Lépine has entrusted the responsibility of receiving all complaints of abuse and inappropriate behavior committed by priests, staff members and volunteers of the Archdiocese of Montreal.
Since the ombudswoman was named last spring, she has received hundreds of calls and many emails.
In her very first quarterly report, released Sept. 9, Kirouack revealed that among all these calls, 29 denunciations were received and analyzed because they were related to sexual, physical, psychological or financial abuse. Since then, she has forwarded 26 formal complaints to the advisory committee in charge of studying them. This committee will then issue recommendations to Lépine.
Because of the summer vacations, not all complaints have been processed yet. However, the ombudswoman confirms that 16 have been upheld, three have been rejected and three have been closed due to lack of information.
“The number of complaints is not necessarily representative of the number of calls received from victims,” explained Kirouack. “Some victims have chosen not to file a complaint or are still considering whether to do so. On the other hand, some victims, without wanting to file a complaint, have expressed the wish that their case be included in my statistics.”
“That’s what I did,” she added.
Seven complaints have already been recommended for investigation and are currently underway or about to begin. An outside firm, Quintet, is responsible for conducting these investigations.
Kirouack’s quarterly report does not mention the names of the victims or the alleged abusers, but it does indicate that the 29 people targeted are mostly members of religious communities and diocesan clergy. Only three are lay employees of congregations.
“The complaints relate to events that took place from the 1950s to the present,” Kirouack’s report said. Fifteen of the 29 reported abuses took place in the 1950s or 1960s. Six took place in the last decade, while eight alleged abuses were committed in 2020 and 2021.
“The age of the victims at the time of the abuse ranged from elementary school children to adults over 80,” she reported.
While as many as 22 complaints are related to sexual abuse, the advocate has also received complaints about psychological, financial or physical abuse.
“In the case of sexual and physical abuse, 31.3 percent of the victims were repeatedly abused,” she said in her report, underlining the number in red.
“I hope that this report will encourage other victims to file complaints so that the abuse will stop once and for all,” Kirouack said.
Some 19 complaints did not fall within the ombudswoman’s mandate. Kirouack’s report indicates, for example, that 13 formal complaints concerned “mostly difficulties between diocesan or parish personnel and members of the clergy.” These were then referred to the Office of Pastoral Personnel.
Six other complaints received were neither clergy-related nor related to abuse within the archdiocese. They concerned, for example, the maintenance of cemeteries, COVID-19 and the lack of an apology from Pope Francis on the residential school issue.
The ombudswoman also said she has received more than a dozen complaints of physical and sexual abuse by members of religious congregations not connected with the Archdiocese of Montreal.
“In these cases, I have reluctantly had to decline jurisdiction,” while advising victims to file their complaint with the authorities of the dioceses or congregations concerned, Kirouack said.
She said certain conversations with victims have upset her.
“I often think of those people age 70 and over who contacted me to tell me about events they had never told anyone about. In some cases, they have made a formal complaint. In other cases, they did not.”
One person told her that she did not want to file a complaint because her abuser had been dead for a while. “It won’t do anything. But what I need is to be remembered. That’s why I called you,” Kirouack was told.
She also confirmed that the diocesan committee on abuse of vulnerable people has already commissioned seven investigations from Quintet, a consulting firm that specializes in dispute prevention and management and in conducting investigations into allegations of harassment, misconduct, discrimination or violence in the workplace.
“At the end of each of these investigations, Quintet will report its findings to the advisory committee, which will then make its recommendations” to Lépine.
Finally, Kirouack confirmed that some pastoral mandates have been temporarily withdrawn, to take “the time to investigate.” But no sanctions have yet been taken against priests, religious or laypeople who would have committed the abuses that have been denounced since her appointment as ombudswoman.
Gloutnay is a staffer for Presence info, Montreal.