Onus on Church to report abuse charges: RCMP

The removal of a P.E.I. priest over allegations of abuse have raised police concerns about not being informed by Catholic Church authorities, and triggered questions about the Church investigating serious charges on its own.

"We have not been contacted in any way shape or form by Church officials or anyone to make a complaint about the allegations against (this priest)," said RCMP Sgt. Jacques Morneau of the Deer Lake, N.L., detachment. "All we know is what we’re hearing from the media. But if this was serious enough to suspend him we would expect to be contacted."

Rev. George Smith, a parish priest in P.E.I., was removed from his duties after Richard Grecco, the Bishop of the Diocese of Charlottetown, received a call from the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador on May 14 about abuse allegations that allegedly occurred while Smith served in Deer Lake between 1986 and 1991.

Grecco told the CBC this week that he did not inquire into the nature of the allegations but followed the diocese’s protocol and removed the priest from his work immediately. He did not know whether police were involved.

"Within 24 hours I had written a letter to Father George telling him about this," Bishop Grecco told the CBC. "That Sunday afternoon that letter was delivered to him. The allegation obviously is from many years ago. The allegation originates in and pertains to the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador, not to the Diocese of Charlottetown."

Morneau wondered what the Church will do with the allegations if they do not come to the police. The RCMP would only launch an investigation once a complaint is received, he added.

"I don’t think the Church is equipped to deal with these situations," Morneau said. "The onus is on them to report these things. If it’s illegal and immoral, they have to report this."

He said abuse allegations should not be considered internal business, adding that the Church would not have the investigative experience to carry out a thorough investigation.

"We are all bound by the Criminal Code – and if someone came forward and made an allegation, and they’re aware of the (potential) criminal offence, they should report it.

"They should involve us just to clarify things," Morneau added. "The uncertainty causes more panic. And it’s even unfair to the priest."

Calls to the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador were not immediately returned.

Church officials in P.E.I. were not available for comment. Other dioceses – including St. John’s, Edmonton and Toronto, for example – will immediately inform children’s aid authorities or police within an hour of an allegation of abuse against a child. But adult complainants bringing up allegations of abuse from the past must go to the police on their own.

Neil MacCarthy, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto, said the Church will still do its own investigation even if the police are not involved, but said all complainants are urged to go to the police. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Vancouver said any allegation against a child, whether current or historical, is referred immediately to outside authorities.

"If the allegations relate to abuse of a child we report them to the ministry and the police – this is true whether the allegations are made when the victim is a child or later when the victim is an adult. It is only in cases where the abuse occurs between two adults that we have no legal obligation to report."

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