MONTREAL — After a rigorous examination of the files of more than 6,800 priests, deacons and staff members of nine Quebec dioceses, retired Judge André Denis confirmed that between 1940 and 2021, 87 sexual abusers were found in those dioceses.
But a lawyer working on class action suits against four of the dioceses believes the numbers are much higher, and at least two bishops told Présence info the most important objective is to find the truth about abusers.
Besides identifying if there were “currently people who have committed sexual abuse” who were still in office — “the ones I identified had already been sanctioned,” the judge told Présence info — Denis and his team of four had to examine each of the files of priests who had worked in each of the dioceses over the past 85 years. It did not matter if they were still active, retired or deceased. It did not matter if they were incardinated — legally attached — to a diocese or simply on loan from a congregation.
“Make us a list of all the abusers you can identify,” the Quebec bishops and archbishops had requested.
“The audit identified 87 individuals, or 1.28 percent of the staff studied, whose records documented confirmed or well-founded allegations of sexual abuse committed against minors or vulnerable adults since 1940,” said a news release from the dioceses.
The report does not specify the status of the abusers, but Denis said the vast majority were priests, and there were two deacons and no laypeople.
“The majority of the persons are deceased; some are very old,” said Denis.
He said he asked to have access to the confidential files of the diocese, and this request always was granted. That’s where he found several elements that allowed him to identify abusers.
The summary of the statistical audit is only three pages long, but the report Denis prepared at the request of the bishops is more than 500 pages with appendices.
The full report will not be made public.
“I gave each diocese the details. They decided to make a joint statement,” he said. They also chose not to indicate how many abusers were identified in each of the dioceses studied.
Within each diocese, the results were communicated to the person designated to receive complaints of abuse.
Lawyer Alain Arsenault, whose law firm is leading class actions against four of the nine dioceses examined by Denis, said he was surprised to learn that only 87 abusers were identified.
He said the percentage “is very low when you consider that the most conservative studies on the subject put the figure at 7 percent. In the most recent studies, it is more like 10 percent. If, in 1960, the archdiocese had 2,100 priests in its ranks, then do the math,” he said. The figure for Montreal alone would be much higher than the 87 identified for the nine dioceses.
As soon as he learned of the findings of the Denis report, Arsenault compiled the number of abusers mentioned in the class actions he is currently pursuing against the dioceses of Joliette, Saint-Jean-Longueuil and Amos, as well as the Archdiocese of Montreal. Although these class actions have not yet been authorized, at least 116 victims have registered. These victims, now elderly, have identified 93 people, mostly priests, as their aggressors.
“Obviously, there are certain things that the archives did not reveal to Judge Denis,” said Arsenault.
Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau said he would not dispute the lawyer’s doubt, simply because “we don’t know if the files are complete.”
He said he believes “there could very well be victims who have never filed a complaint, who will come to see us to tell what was done to them” after having read the conclusions of the statistical audit.
“The statistical audit is a picture of a moving train,” said Archbishop Christian Lépine of Montreal. After “the processing of Judge Denis’ data, the class action and the new appeals we will receive,” the Archdiocese of Montreal may well get a higher number than the statistical audit revealed. But the most important objective, said Archbishop Lépine, “is to get to the truth.”
Gloutnay writes for Présence info in Montreal.