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Canadian Primate apologises to survivors who were identified against their wishes

18 March 2022


The Canadian Primate, Dr Linda Nicholls

The Canadian Primate, Dr Linda Nicholls

THE Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) has offered a “sincere and unconditional apology” for the harm done to sexual-violence survivors whose details were disclosed in a draft article without their permission.

The story began in February 2021, when three survivors of violence perpetrated by ordained male clergy told the Anglican Journal, the Canadian paper owned by the ACC, how their allegations had been mishandled by four of the Church’s institutions: three dioceses and one school. They requested assurances of confidentiality from the Journal, and understood that the article would not name any of them without their explicit permission.

They learned in May that, in the absence on leave of the editor, Matthew Townsend, the ACC had asked the journalist writing the story, Joelle Kidd, to provide a draft, together with a separate list of the four institutions involved (which the Journal had decided would not be named). The journalist is said to have provided it under duress, and only after assurances that it would not be circulated to the institutions concerned.

It was circulated to those institutions, however — before even the survivors had had the opportunity to see or approve it. The institutions would have been able to identify the survivors from the personal information given in the draft, still a work in progress.

On hearing of this, the survivors are reported to have made multiple requests to the ACC, via the Journal, that all recipients delete their copies and name anyone they had shared them with. Most complied; two are understood to have refused. Mr Townsend resigned in June, along with Ms Kidd, although the ACC did not announce these resignations until September.

The survivors have been seeking accountability ever since. An open letter on their behalf went to the Primate, Dr Linda Nicholls; the ACC general secretary, Alan Perry; and members of the General Synod and the Journal board. It was circulated on 17 February, and published with 228 signatures on 2 March.

The signatories understood that a “high-ranking official” of the ACC had chosen to send the draft to the four institutions. They said: “We expect church officials to keep confidences sacred and protect the Church from abusers. . .

“We therefore share the survivors’ shock that the ACC broke these promises, abandoned their duties of confidentiality, and failed to care for the survivors’ privacy. We share their outrage that without their permission they were again made vulnerable to the institutions where they had been harmed. And we share their grief that their willingness to place their faith, hope, and trust in the Church was again betrayed.”

The signatories, led by two doctoral students at the Toronto School of Theology, said that they understood the ACC had solicited an investigation, but the survivors had not been given access to its report. “To the best of our knowledge, no ACC church official has taken responsibility for the breach or experienced any consequences for choosing to circulate the draft.

“Right now, we cannot see how any survivors of sexual violence or other ecclesial abuses can trust an organisation that treats disclosures so cavalierly.”

Profound cultural change is needed, they say, “starting with a clear repudiation of cronyism and corruption”. They ask the ACC to release the unredacted findings of the investigation to a representative chosen by the survivors; require the resignation of the official who circulated the draft; and to “submit an apology for publication in the Anglican Journal that summarises the investigation report, confesses wrongdoing, and presents a plan of action that is a worthy beginning of repentance.”

Dr Nicholls responded to the letter on 18 February. She wrote: “At the outset, I must acknowledge that this has been a painful incident for all involved, but especially so from the sense of betrayal felt by their sources for the article and for the journalist and editor who felt it necessary to resign.

“Although we may, and must learn much from this incident, it cannot erase the harm done. We are committed to ensuring that it does not happen again and ensuring the integrity of our journalistic practices now and in the future. It was never intended that the article not be published.”

The Council of the General Synod said in a reply finalised on 15 March: “Our hearts break at the harm done to the individuals involved in this matter, and the likelihood that actions by the Church have reopened old wounds. Our hearts break at the suffering undergone by so many victims of sexual misconduct within the Church, both past and present. . . We are truly sorry for these things.”

The incident had shown yet again that “our present practices can be inadequate when a complaint is brought against an institution or structure within our Church.

“These situations are always challenging for all involved and often can end up satisfying no one. Too often, the institution can become part of the mistreatment. . . The Council commits to increased vigilance and affirmative ongoing action to address injustice in the structures, systems, policies and practices of the General Synod.”

The Primate, the statement said, had also expressed her willingness to meet the complainants, individually or collectively, or to communicate through an intermediary, “if that would be helpful to explore avenues of addressing their concerns and seeking reconciliation”.

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