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Canada Sept. 11, 2018

Centre for protecting vulnerable will be first in North America

By Deborah Gyapong

Chantal Beauvais, the first lay person and the first woman chosen as rector of Saint Paul University, was installed in 2009. She is shown with Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.  (CCN photo)

OTTAWA—The rector of Saint Paul University hopes the development of a centre dedicated to the protection of minors and vulnerable adults will help restore trust in a Church rocked by sexual abuse scandals.

Chantal Beauvais, the first lay rector of SPU, said her “faith was shaken” by last month’s Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on clerical sexual abuse and the revelations of sexual abuse concerning ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

“Faith and trust are two similar words,” Beauvais said. “It’s a time to reflect and discern on what it means to have faith in the Lord, faith in the Church. How does that impact me and what is my responsibility?”

The Centre for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults is scheduled to open one year from now, said Beauvais. It will provide training and other resources for dioceses and religious communities wishing to develop new guidelines or improve existing policies concerning sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. 

The centre will be run out of SPU’s canon law faculty and will involve its faculties of theology, ethics, and social science. Its direct relationship with a canon law faculty makes the centre the first of its kind in North America. 

It will also offer its services to jurisdictions abroad, according to Beauvais.

“We could, with canon law provisions, help dioceses overseas have robust policies to prevent abuse in these countries,” she said.

Some elements are already in place, such as workshops on how to create safe environments and audits of existing diocese policies related to the protection of minors and vulnerable adults. 

“We are ready to do audits, to go into the dioceses, to meet with people, help with the guidelines and asses the guidelines already in place,” Beauvais said.

The centre will also address the vulnerability of adults, including seminarians, said Beauvais. Among the allegations McCarrick faces is that, as a bishop, he had several inappropriate relationships with seminarians spanning several years.

“Yes, they are consenting adults, but the relationship is a relationship of imbalance of powers,” Beauvais said. “That definitely has an impact on capacity of a person to give consent – if they are afraid of consequences if they refuse.”

The centre’s mandate will include psychological abuse, sexual abuse and abuse of authority, she said.

“Seminarians are clearly in a situation where they are subject to the authority of the formators and superiors,” she said. “They are vulnerable in that sense. All these things need to be talked about.” 

Adjunct professor Anne Asselin said the idea for the centre originated three years ago when she was dean of SPU’s canon law faculty.

“It’s not a secret that the Church has been grappling with this issue for quite a while now,” she said. 

An important aspect of eliminating abuse is being able to recognize “danger signs.”  

“You have to recognize where potential dangers lie,” Asselin said. “People in positions of authority, or working on committees, have to be able to recognize where there are potentials dangers in the ways a person relates to others.

“You just have to be awake. Those are tools people don’t always have.”

Last year SPU began offering a graduate diploma program in protection of minors and vulnerable adults. It is offered to university graduates who serve in dioceses, parishes and in religious institutions, and also for canon lawyers and Church leaders who are responsible for drafting and implementing policies related to sexual abuse.

Canadian Catholic News