The place that makes prob­lems dis­ap­pear

The Southern Gazette - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 36 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@thetele­ — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

I can’t tell you for cer­tain the first time I heard about South­down, the On­tario treat­ment cen­tre where the Catholic Church has sent trou­bled priests for decades.

I can tell you that it was most likely in the mid-1980s, when a series of Ro­man Catholic priests were fac­ing crim­i­nal sex­ual abuse charges in New­found­land.

South­down Treat­ment Cen­tre is north of Toronto, and spe­cial­izes in help­ing clergy.

As the cen­tre says on its web­site, “Since those first ten­ta­tive days, thou­sands have found re­lief from their dif­fi­cul­ties, and most have re­turned to ac­tive min­istry. South­down’s pro­grams and treat­ment ser­vices con­tinue to evolve in or­der to re­main flex­i­ble and re­spon­sive to chang­ing needs of those com­mit­ted to min­istry.”

Some are deal­ing with al­co­holism and sub­stance abuse, oth­ers with de­pres­sion. And some are treated for their sex­ual abuse of chil­dren.

South­down was in the news again last week, when, as part of the dis­clo­sures of wide­spread his­toric sex­ual abuse by priests in Penn­syl­va­nia, it was re­vealed that at least 11 abus­ing priests were sent to the fa­cil­ity — and that some of those priests abused youth in Canada.

Now, there’s no doubt that South­down has helped clergy.

But that’s not why I re­mem­ber the name so well. No, I re­mem­ber it for some­thing else, some­thing that the cen­tre it­self may have had noth­ing to do with.

For arch­dio­ce­ses in New­found­land and other At­lantic prov­inces, it had another role: it made prob­lems go away.

Of­fend­ing priests and brothers were moved out of the ju­ris­dic­tion where the of­fences oc­curred, off to some other place where they weren’t sup­posed to be a prob­lem any­more. Ex­cept when they were. And should the po­lice ar­rive with ques­tions about the con­duct of clergy, they could be re­as­sured that the good Fa­ther was get­ting treat­ment, that he was safely out of town and wasn’t ever com­ing back. Not only that, but, given that he was in the process of treat­ment, it wouldn’t be right or proper to in­ter­view Fa­ther Whomever about what­ever kind of malfea­sance he was al­leged to have been in­volved with. In­ter­views with po­lice would be dif­fi­cult and prob­lem­atic — and po­lice of­fi­cers would have to travel to con­duct the in­ter­views, too.

That model led to find­ings like this by the Win­ter Com­mis­sion into the Sex­ual Abuse of Chil­dren by Mem­bers of the Clergy in New­found­land in 1990: “Priest X was sent to South­down. Fol­low­ing his re­turn he was as­signed to a ru­ral parish as parish priest, but there is no ev­i­dence that his con­duct was ef­fec­tively mon­i­tored ei­ther by the Arch­dio­cese or by South­down. This kind of post-treat­ment mon­i­tor­ing was not con­sid­ered.”

Other clergy came from as far away as Aus­tralia, where a com­mis­sion into sex­ual abuse by clergy was told, “In the late 1980s and 1990s, it was the prac­tice of the Syd­ney Province to send mem­bers of the Or­der who had ac­knowl­edged al­le­ga­tions of abuse against them to spe­cial­ist treat­ment cen­tres in the United States of Amer­ica (St. Luke In­sti­tute at Mary­land) and in Canada (South­down In­sti­tute, which used to be at Aurora, Ont.).”

For plenty of peo­ple, re­porters and jour­nal­ists among them, the role of South­down in the over­ar­ch­ing scan­dals of the Catholic Church is brand new.

For me, hear­ing that name is old, old news.

Penn­syl­va­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Josh Shapiro said this about the church hi­er­ar­chy in a news con­fer­ence Tues­day, Aug. 14: “They pro­tected their in­sti­tu­tion at all costs. As the grand jury found, the church showed a com­plete dis­dain for vic­tims. … The coverup was so­phis­ti­cated. And all the while, shock­ingly, church lead­er­ship kept records of the abuse and the cover-up.” Shock­ing, maybe. Sur­pris­ing? Not at all. New? No.

All that is old is new again.

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