Church of Canada Apologizes to Sexual Abuse Survivors

Graphics from the #ACCtoo website, and the shield of the Anglican Church of Canada

By Kirk Petersen

The governing body of the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) published a “sincere and unconditional apology” March 13 to three individuals for failing to safeguard their confidentiality in the wake of their reports of sexual abuse by ordained members of the clergy. But at least one of the three believes the church has not gone far enough.

Cydney Proctor | Photo: RNS

In February, TLC first reported on an open letter accusing an unidentified senior official of the ACC of disclosing, perhaps inadvertently, the identities of the three people to the institutions where the alleged abuse occurred. Cydney Proctor, a 31-year-old woman formerly active in the ACC, publicly identified herself as one of the persons, while the others signed the open letter as “Survivor B” and “Survivor C.”

At the time, Archbishop and Primate Linda Nicholls issued a brief statement expressing sorrow and apologizing to the three, and also referred to unspecified “misrepresentations” in the open letter. Her statement was criticized on two grounds. The authors of the open letter responded: “If the leadership of General Synod believes there are any inaccuracies in the open letter, we would encourage them to name them, privately or publicly, so that they can be corrected.”

Nicholls’s statement also said incorrectly that two former journalists at the ACC’s Anglican Journal, both of whom resigned in protest over the disclosure of the identities, had not participated in the formal review of the episode. She later retracted and apologized for that misstatement, clarifying that while the journalists had cooperated with the investigation, they declined an opportunity to meet individually with her.

Proctor told Religion News Service that she believes the March 13 statement by the Council of the General Synod (CoGS) represents “the beginnings of genuine repentance” and was a “good place to start,” but said, “I think [the primate of the ACC] should be trying to meet with us, rather than vaguely saying, you know I’m available if you want to talk.”

TLC asked Proctor if she had considered that Nicholls, having publicly expressed a willingness to talk, might have felt it would be too confrontational to push further for a meeting, because of the possibility of retraumatization.

“With regards to ++Nichols, I see what you’re saying with regards to publicly stating her openness, but there was no clear like “Yes, I want to meet with you if you’re willing,” vs “I’ll do it if I must.” Like if you want to see me, say so, tell me how I will be kept safe, etc.,” Proctor said by email.

Archbishop Linda Nicholls

The CoGS statement resulted from a meeting March 10-13, during which the council “devoted several hours to intensive and extensive discussion of the matters raised in the open letter from #ACCtoo.” Much of the statement focused on “the journalistic incident” behind the controversy, and the council said “it is clear that some recollections of the specific details differ among those most directly involved.”

ACC “needs and wants to nurture independent journalism of integrity in its print and digital publications,” the CoGS statement said.

The Anglican Journal has traditionally operated with some autonomy, although it is owned by the church and staffed by church employees. The publication had been working for months on an article investigating allegations made by Proctor and the others about sexual misconduct by clergy, and about how the church had handled the allegations. The CoGS statement expressed support for that project, and said: “The Primate strongly hopes that journalistic staff will return to that subject, and find a way to complete and publish a major investigative piece on it.”

Tali Folkins, editor of the Anglican Journal, did not respond to requests for comment.

A draft of the original article, which has never been published, was sent by a senior ACC official to the bishops and institutions responsible for the clergy members who were accused of misconduct. CoGS described this as an “egregious error.” The electronic file containing the article also included notes by the reporter, which identified one of the three persons by name, and which made it possible for the institutions to discover the other names by matching the allegations against their own files.

The reporter, Joelle Kidd, and Editor Matthew Townsend both resigned their employment in June 2021 because of the disclosure. Townsend was the news editor of TLC before he joined the Anglican Journal in 2019.

In an email to TLC, Townsend described the CoGS message as “somewhat productive.” He added, “I appreciate the empathy expressed in the statement, but I don’t see it speaking to accountability for the harms cited in the open letter or offering a clear pathway to reconciliation with these survivors.” Kidd did not respond to a request for comment, but has said in the past that she supports the survivors.

The #ACCtoo open letter was posted February 17, 2022, on a new website of the same name by two doctoral candidates at the Toronto School of Theology, Michael Buttrey and Carolyn Mackie. Buttrey told TLC that they expect to post a response to the March 13 CoGS statement, “but only once we have consulted and discerned carefully,” including consulting with Proctor and the others.

The open letter asked for signatures from members of the ACC, and was delivered with 228 signatures on March 2, Ash Wednesday. Mackie said as of March 15 there are 273 signatures, including numerous clergy members and one bishop, the Rt. Rev. Bruce Myers, Bishop of Quebec. An autoresponse from Myers’s email said he was traveling, and his office did not respond to TLC‘s request for comment.

Multiple observers took issue with a sentence in the CoGS statement referring to “the challenge faced by church leadership at all levels, given both the Gospel imperative to care for the powerless and victimized, and their covenanted responsibility to the institution.”

For example, the Rev. Martha Tatarnic, rector of St. George’s Anglican Church in St. Catharines, dissected the CoGS statement on an ACC-sponsored forum on Medium, a popular web platform. She gave CoGS credit for “a genuine wrestling with the concerns,” but said “the layers of this story all reveal, with distressing clarity, the ongoing protection of the institution and its leaders over and against the voices, needs and stories of those who have been marginalized.”

Townsend was more emphatic, saying, “this sentence is blasphemous.” In an email to TLC, he said: “it is impossible for institutional responsibilities, whatever those may be, to supersede the Gospel of the Son of God.”

The ACC has said that while institutional responsibilities are not absolute, they do exist. In 2013, the Primate’s Commission on Theological Education and Formation for Presbyteral Ministry published a set of “competencies” for priesthood in the Anglican Church of Canada. The report said that among many other attributes, a priest should demonstrate “a healthy and loyal but not uncritical relationship to her or his bishop, diocese, province and the national church.”

Advertisements

Online Archives

Search