MONTREAL – Jesuits of Canada made a historic announcement last week which will further the healing for Canadian victims of sexual assault at the hands of Jesuits, including here on Manitoulin Island, when the religious order vowed to publish a list of all Jesuits who have been credibly accused of sexual assault since 1950.
“We hear the voice of the victims of childhood sexual abuse in Canada. Lists that provide the public with information about these men are important to healing. It is the right thing for us to do in the promotion of institutional transparency and accountability, an important step to help correct the causes of the crisis,” said Fr. Erik Oland, SJ, provincial of the Jesuits of Canada. “On behalf of the Jesuits, I apologize to the victims for the deep pain caused by Jesuits in the past.”
The Expositor contacted Jesuits of Canada following a Globe and Mail story that announced the development. Shortly thereafter, this newspaper received a statement and fact sheet from the organization in response to the Globe story.
Jesuits of Canada has enlisted King International Advisory Group, an independent auditor, to review all personnel and provincial files of Jesuits dating back to 1950. This will be used to create a list of all Jesuits in the organization’s service area (called a province), which includes all Canadian provinces and territories as well as Haiti.
Jesuits of Canada spokesperson José Sanchez told The Expositor that any priest who has been accused will be fully investigated back to the time they joined the order. The investigation will not be limited to 1950 and later; the province simply has not heard of any complaints before 1950.
The organization intends to release the list of accused Jesuits by January 2021 at the latest. Auditors have to read through decades of hard-copy files, scan and review them, which will be a time-intensive process.
The records under review include all Jesuit files involving accused clergy, regardless of whether they were alive or dead when the accusations came forth. They will also be considering the court records from lawsuits involving the nearby Spanish Indian Residential Schools and lawsuits from Northern Ontario First Nations, including Wiikwemkoong.
“The Jesuits have recently been named as a defendant in a class action lawsuit in Northern Ontario alleging that there are additional individuals from the Wiikwemikoong (sic) First Nation who were not compensated in the two previous lawsuits which were settled in 1993 and 2004,” reads a backgrounder document prepared by Jesuits of Canada. It states no new incidents of sexual abuse against minors have been reported in the past 25 years.
That lawsuit is one The Expositor has been following for more than a year. This fall, The Expositor consulted archives and compiled the most extensive account of Father George Epoch and Brother Norman Hinton’s abuses, especially within the community of Wiikwemkoong.
The lawyers working on the current class action declined to comment on this development.
Fr. Epoch has been described as one of the worst sexual abusers in Canada’s history and is believed to have abused hundreds of children while stationed in various locations across Canada. He began Jesuit studies in 1938 and died in 1986 before any allegations came against him.
Jesuits of Canada says at least 90 percent of the claims made since 1958 have been against Fr. Epoch and Br. Hinton.
As part of The Expositor’s coverage of these abuses, Wiikwemkoong elder Mishkee Adzawin Enagadong (Medicine Life Keeper), whose English name is Josh Eshkawkogan, gave an account of the abuse he experienced as a boy from Br. Hinton.
He shared his story, hoping it would inspire others to break their silence and begin healing, and said this was an important moment for victims and community members alike.
“It gives that understanding for the rest of the community who is not affected by the Jesuits … traumatization and sexual abuse did happen and this is a confirmation, an acknowledgement from the Jesuits,” said Mr. Eshkawkogan.
“Our own community (has) to acknowledge this happened,” he said. “I think all victims need to be able to feel they’re believed, they’re not creating a story, and they’re being understood about how they feel.”
The community aspect is a key part of this story. Jesuits were seen as such important figures in the communities they served that every single accusation against a Jesuit to date has only emerged after the abuser died.
“It is a tragic consequence of the esteem that clergy were held in, that victims did not come forward because of fear that they would not be believed, or that there would be reprisals,” notes the official release.
In fact, the late Fr. Epoch is buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery at Wiikwemkoong, something that was requested by many of his former parishioners when he died nearly 35 years ago.
“I hope it will start feeling the compassion, of understanding and acknowledging as a community that that’s what took place,” said Mr. Eshkawkogan.
The list will include all allegations where it seems more likely than not that an incident occurred, a far lower standard of proof than would be required in a courtroom.
When released, the registry will feature detailed information about all of the places an accused Jesuit served and the dates of those postings. It will feature their date of birth, the date they became a Jesuit and the date of either their death or the time they left the Society of Jesus.
The abuser list will be a living document that can be updated when more information becomes available.
“We view this disclosure as part of our commitment now to preventing abuse,” states the release, adding that the entire culture of the organization has begun to change. “A profound transformation is needed.”
The Jesuits have also stated that they will listen and stand in solidarity with victims, will work to understand the systemic causes of the sexual abuse crisis and continue to make changes in various parts of the organization to cause broad reforms in the way it operates.
Jesuits of Canada first introduced policies and protocols against inappropriate conduct between Jesuits and minors in the early 1990s.
Mr. Eshkawkogan said he remained cautious over whether or not the Jesuits would undertake this process in good faith because of his past experiences.
“I’ve seen so many inquiries, so many investigations, and it’s always the victim that comes up short. I just hope it doesn’t fall into that category,” he said.