Abuse by Clergy in Canada Is Described
Victims Say That Country Trails U.S. in Dealing with Issue

By R.G. Dunlop
The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
Downloaded February 23, 2003

Canadians victimized by sexual abuse, often at the hands of the clergy, said at a conference yesterday that their country lags at least a decade behind the United States in terms of public awareness, aggressive legal action and probing media.

"We haven't found a Boston Globe," which has doggedly pursued allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, said Nancy Mayer of The Linkup, a national advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse.

The Linkup is sponsoring the three-day conference in Louisville.

"The Canadian press is tied up with the Catholic Church and is not aggressively pursuing the story. And we don't yet have a Jeffrey Anderson," the Minnesota attorney who has represented numerous victims of sexual abuse by clergy, Mayer said.

Mayer, who formerly lived in the United States but now resides in Toronto, referred to the abuse of children in Canada's residential schools as the "Canadian holocaust."

One abuse victim, Herve Bertrand, spoke movingly in French of losing his childhood when he was abused as a young boy in an orphanage that he said was later transformed into a mental institution.

Bertrand, founder of a group that seeks justice for the abuse that members suffered while being raised in Catholic Churchrun institutions in Quebec, began to weep almost immediately after beginning his presentation. "I'm still suffering," he said through a translator.

Bertrand said that he was sent to the orphanage because his parents weren't married and that the home became a mental institution with bars on the windows when he was 11. Then, he said, the abuse began: being put into a straitjacket although he was not mentally ill, and being repeatedly raped for a period of six years. When he confided the abuse to a priest, Bertrand said, the priest also abused him.

After founding his group about a decade ago, Bertrand said, he visited a psychiatrist who determined that he was not suffering from mental illness.

Mayer, of The Linkup, said the residential schools were run by several churches, including the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and the United Church of Canada. "Whether your abusers were priests depended on what school you were in," she said.

Linda Pusher, another Canadian who said she was sexually abused as a child, although not by the clergy, displayed lists of more than 200 clergy who, she said, had committed some form of sexual abuse. Some on the list, she said, were priests who abused children in the United States and moved to Canada. Others, she said, committed abuse in Canada and were transferred elsewhere in the country.

"Canada is at least 11 years behind the United States," Pusher said. "We need lawyers and media ready to dig in, to start bringing these people to account."

Anderson, the Minnesota attorney who has represented abuse victims for two decades, counseled participants in an earlier conference session yesterday about how to pursue legislative initiatives and approach legislators.

Successful efforts will focus attention not on the Catholic Church specifically but rather on the evils of sexual abuse by any perpetrator, Anderson said.

"I've watched the survivors carry this thing. That's the answer," Anderson said. He urged them to go to their state legislatures and "tell your story."

At the conclusion of his presentation, Anderson held up a small teddy bear of the sort he said he sometimes gives to legislators as a reminder of "innocence lost."

" 'Stolen,' not 'lost,' " called a firm voice from the back of the room. Anderson agreed.

Between sessions, conference participants huddled in small groups, sharing their tales of abuse and discussing legal and legislative strategies.

The conference, which is being held at the Holiday Inn Downtown, concludes today. Among the scheduled events is a "march for accountability" to the Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption.


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