St. George's Cathedral in Kingston, Ont. was the site of a 1992 public apology by Bishop Peter Mason to victims of sexual abuse by a former choirmaster. The apology marked a turning point in the Diocese of Ontario regarding policy and training for cases of sexual misconduct. Photo by Mark Hauser

#MeToo and the Church—Part Two: Development of sexual misconduct policies

Read Part One.

The development of sexual misconduct policies across the Anglican Church of Canada starting in the early 1990s reflected wider historical changes in public attitudes towards sexual abuse and harassment.

The  public acknowledgement of sexual harassment developed largely out of the women’s rights movement and second-wave feminism in the 1970s and 1980s. This acknowledgement spurred changes in policies and practices in many workplaces and jurisdictions. At the same time, a series of shocking cases of violence toward children, including child sexual abuse, were rapidly gaining public acknowledgement and attention.

Social worker Mary Wells, currently a member of the Safe Church Commission of the Anglican Communion, remembered the public concern in the early 1980s that followed the rape and murder by three men of a boy in Toronto who had been earning money by shining shoes.

“The whole community, the country, was actually in shock when they found out what had happened,” Wells recalled.

In the aftermath, Chairman of Metropolitan Toronto Paul Godfrey set up the Metropolitan Toronto Chairman’s Special Committee on Child Sexual Abuse. Calls from federal politicians and activists led to changes in the Criminal Code of Canada and Canada Evidence Act that allowed children to testify. The offence of “invitation to sexual touching” was written into law to eliminate a legal loophole that had previously exonerated accused child predators.

During this period, a wave of disclosures emerged regarding sexual and physical abuse of children at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John’s, Nfld., operated by the Roman Catholic-affiliated Congregation of Christian Brothers. The ensuing media attention and public furor resulted in public inquiries and renewed criminal investigations, following previous investigations in 1975 and 1982 that had resulted in only one conviction.

“When [the revelations of abuse at Mount Cashel] finally came out, there was broad support from the Canadian public to say, ‘This can’t go on. This isn’t acceptable. We will stand with these now young men,’” Wells said. “But it was a huge shift in the Canadian social paradigm.”

Ontario dioceses lead the way

Throughout the 1980s, Wells helped to develop practices and procedures for investigating allegations and interviewing complainants in child and adult sexual abuse cases, gaining a reputation as an expert in the topic. In 1989, at the request of the Department of Justice Canada, she wrote Canada’s Law on Child Sexual Abuse: A Handbook, which explained the recent changes made to the Criminal Code and Canada Evidence Act.

In the wake of the Mount Cashel case and other cases of sexual abuse, the Diocese of Toronto formed a committee to craft a sexual misconduct policy. Wells’ home parish recommended her to the committee, which would go on to develop the first Anglican sexual misconduct policy in Canada.

Then-Archdeacon Colin Johnson and Archbishop Terry Finlay were vital in the development of the policy, with Wells noting that Johnson “took a leadership role in helping get that [policy] drafted and shepherded through”. She also praised Finlay for his understanding and clarity in addressing the issue.

Mary Louise Meadow, a retired priest who served as coordinator for chaplaincy in the Diocese of Toronto at the time the sexual misconduct policy was developed, described Finlay as “the bishop that knew how to engage the lay people around him to help the church in the Diocese of Toronto respond”.

She also highlighted the role of Wells and Donna Hunter, director of program resources in the Diocese of Toronto, in crafting the policy, and said that the main impetus for the sexual misconduct policy came from non-ordained women.

“Those two women were absolutely instrumental in getting that policy worked through the executive committee of the diocese and getting it in place,” Meadow said.

At approximately the same time, the Diocese of Ontario was playing its own role in shining a light on sexual abuse. In 1992, Bishop Peter Mason offered a public apology to victims of convicted pedophile John Gallienne, who sexually abused more than a dozen boys while serving as choirmaster and organist at St. George’s Cathedral in Kingston, Ont.

The Diocese of Ontario subsequently committed to write a policy and procedure to provide proper training for clergy and staff members for handling such cases. Wells called the apology “a very important turning point for that congregation and for that issue.”

Current church policy

The sexual misconduct policy established by the Diocese of Toronto in 1992 served as the model for policies and procedures that are now in place for virtually every Anglican diocese in Canada—as well as the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada, which adopted its own policy for sexual misconduct in November 2005 with the approval of the Council of General Synod.

Under these policies, procedures in cases of sexual misconduct are structured to meet civil requirements based on the offence. Allegations of child abuse, for example, are reported to police or child protection services and the church steps back during the course of a statutory investigation.

Complainants who report exploitation, harassment, or abuse have their allegations investigated by trained persons. In the course of the investigation, the allegations are documented and the complainant is listened to carefully and offered support.

The accused person is fully informed of the complaint in writing and has the right to respond and have their response documented, reflecting procedures used by most professional regulatory bodies. Harassment complaints are dealt with using models similar to workplace harassment policies, such as including opportunities for mediation if both parties agree.

A report is then prepared, which may make recommendations for decisions to be made by designated church authorities. Parishes who are affected by abuse complaints also receive provision for crisis response.

What the church can offer

In a post-#MeToo environment, Wells suggested that the Anglican Church of Canada can play a vital role by sharing the lessons it has learned through decades of experience in developing policies and procedures for sexual misconduct.

One of those lessons, she said, is the importance of due process.

“I’m delighted that the #MeToo movement is happening, but I find it very concerning that it’s unfolding without any policies and procedures in place,” Wells said. “So there’s no due process for people who are accused in way too many of these [cases].”

“In any workplace policy, or certainly in any church policy, if somebody is credibly accused, they would be put on leave. Sometimes it’s paid, sometimes it’s without pay. But there’s no pre-judgement until there’s a careful investigation where the complainant’s statement is taken in full and signed off, and then that is presented to the person who’s complained against, and they have opportunity to review it and to reply to it.”

Wells emphasized that developing policies for sexual misconduct is an ongoing task.

“All of the policies have review mechanisms built into them,” she said. “Every few years they need to be looked at, and from the experience of the previous years, to see if any changes need to be made. So it’s a growing, organic thing.”

In the next instalment of this series, we will consider the role of the residential school experience and how Indigenous perspectives can inform the church’s response to #MeToo.

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