Friday, January 21, 2011

Police checks

Antigonish diocese staff undergo police checks
Last Updated: Friday, January 21, 2011 | 8:24 AM AT .CBC News
Staff and volunteers of the Antigonish diocese will now have to provide background information and references in the aftermath of recent sex abuse and child pornography scandals.

"It's a pretty standard process by now, we probably should have been on top of it some years ago," said Rev. Paul Abbass, a spokesman for the Antigonish diocese.

In addition to providing background information, staff and volunteers who are considered high-risk — people who interact with children and the elderly, or other vulnerable adults — will also have to undergo criminal background checks.

Abbass said as a priest, he will have a police check run on him and his name will be put through sexual abuse registries.

He said the process — similar to what was put in place by organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada — is needed to restore confidence in the church.

"When incidents of the past happened, particularly in the last 12 months, they said, 'You know, the church needs to do something different,'" said Abbass.

"Well, here it is. This is what it means to do something different."

Parishes in the Antigonish diocese had barely begun to grapple with an $18-million settlement with victims of sexual abuse by priests, when the man who brokered the settlement — Raymond Lahey, who was bishop of the diocese of Antigonish at the time — was charged with possessing child pornography.

Lahey resigned from his position shortly after the charges were laid. His trial has been set for May.

Pat Bates, a member of the choir at Sacred Heart Parish in Sydney, said although people understand that background checks are needed, many are not happy.

"None of us will escape, we're all asked to participate in this," he said. "I think when it's all completed people won't worry very much about it but because it's something new, it does create this business of skepticism, I suppose."

Abbass said he had also heard mixed reaction to the process.

"Particularly more in the rural areas, where they're so accustomed to just helping one another, that it seems strange to them that somebody would be suggesting that they need to go and have a police check before they would drop in with a parish bulletin on an elderly person, or bring communion to somebody on the communion list," Abbass said Thursday.

"It just doesn't seem to fit with the culture and the relationships that we've had in the past."

Abbass said each parish must appoint a co-ordinator to oversee the process and it's hoped the parishes will finish registering and screening their staff and volunteers by the end of this month.

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