CNWE Invites you to Advocate for a Canadian Survivor of Clergy Sexual Abuse in the Catholic church.

Fall 2020

We want to bring an urgent issue to your attention.

We invite your participation in an action for justice in the Catholic Church.

*A warning that this information raises the issue of clergy sexual abuse of minors.

Irene Deschenes, the survivor at the heart of a decades-long legal battle with the Diocese of London, has accepted the offer of CNWE and friends to support her with a letter writing action. Irene was 10 years old and a member of St. Ursula Catholic School and Parish in Chatham, ON when she was sexually abused by Fr. Charles Sylvestre in the early 1970s.

Irene filed a lawsuit with the Diocese in 1996 and settled out of court in 2000. At that time, the Diocese of London claimed it did not learn of Fr. Sylvestre’s sexual abuse of minors until the late 1980’s.

In 2006, Fr. Sylvestre pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting 47 girls under the age of 18, including Irene Deschenes. At that time, it came to light that the Diocese had received police statements that Fr. Sylvestre had sexually assaulted three girls in 1962, almost a decade before Ms. Deschenes was sexually assaulted.If the Diocese had acted on this information at the time, the sexual assault of Irene Deschenes and 43 additional girls could have been prevented.

With this revelation, Ms. Deschenes sought to have her original lawsuit thrown out. A superior court judge ruled in Irene Deschenes’ favour but the Diocese of London appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal. The Appeal Court also sided with Irene Deschenes in May 2020, saying that there had been significant “misrepresentation” by the Church that impacted the original settlement. The court also said evidence that the Diocese tried to cover up the allegations of sexual abuse is “relevant to the consideration of fairness and justice.”

The Diocese of London has now filed for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, rather than mediate a new settlement with Ms. Deschenes. As Irene Deschenes says: “It’s painful enough to try to recover from the effects of sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic priest; it’s even more painful to recover from the effects of legal bullying that the Church and their lawyers put victims through again and again. If we go to mediation, this painful process will be expedited, and I can finally get on with my life.” (The Canadian Press, August 20, 2020).

ACTION: To support Irene Deschenes, the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality is inviting you to write a letter (click here for template: http://cnwe.ca/new_cnwe/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Letter-to-Bishop-Fabbro-Fall-2020.pdf ) as soon as possible to Bishop Ronald Fabbro, Bishop of London.

** Please mark on the outside of the envelope, “Personal and Confidential” to be sure that  Bishop Fabbro will personally receive the letter. You are welcome to personalize the letter. We just encourage you to reflect the facts of this letter and its respectful tone.

You are also welcome to copy the letter to the CCCB (Richard Gagnon, Archbishop of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops 2500 Don Reid Drive, Ottawa (ON) K1H 2J2, Canada) and/or your own bishop. https://www.cccb.ca/the-catholic-church-in-canada/directory-of-bishops-and-eparchs/members/ 

Text Box: ACTION: To support Irene Deschenes, the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality is inviting you to write a letter (template follows) as soon as possible to Bishop Ronald Fabbro, Bishop of London. 
** Please mark on the outside of the envelope, “Personal and Confidential” to be sure that  Bishop Fabbro will personally receive the letter. You are welcome to personalize the letter. We just encourage you to reflect the facts of this letter and its respectful tone. 
You are also welcome to copy the letter to the CCCB (Richard Gagnon, Archbishop of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops 2500 Don Reid Drive, Ottawa (ON) K1H 2J2, Canada) and/or your own bishop. https://www.cccb.ca/the-catholic-church-in-canada/directory-of-bishops-and-eparchs/members/

If you have any questions about this action, please email admin@cnwe.ca .

Janet Speth, April Weavell, Susan Roll, Katherine Cameron, CNWE National Work Group

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CNWE Signs Open Letter to Pope Francis from International Coalition, (Catholic Women’s Council)

CNWE has endorsed an Open Letter to Pope Francis asking him to revise the language used in the title of his upcoming Encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti” (‘all brothers’) to include ‘sisters’. https://mailchi.mp/56fd865e9031/a-call-for-dignity-and-equality-from-catholic-women-globally-on-march-4620464?e=bfb9a85f97

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CNWE Toronto Participates in International Women’s Day Global Action Outside St. Michael’s Cathedral!

On International Women’s Day, Sunday March 8, 2020 at St. Michael’s Cathedral in downtown Toronto, close to 50 Catholic Network for Women’s Equality members and friends gathered from 4-5pm to call the Catholic Church hierarchy to equality for women in the Catholic Church.

This initiative, begun by Voices of Faith had actions in 36 cities around the world:

Philippines, India, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa, Australia, the UK, Luxembourg, Germany, Spain, Austria, Ireland, Croatia, Switzerland, Italy – and Canada!

We raised our voices in song and chant while parishioners of St. Michael’s walked into mass. We gathered for dinner afterwards to continue the conversation!

This is the inaugural event for the new global umbrella group,

Catholic Women’s Council (CWC)

“The CWC has great ambitions and a limited time frame. Together we commit ourselves to work towards a major collective event in Rome in 2021 – we are visible and acting, taking responsibility and being ready to change our church for the good now. In the coming months until November 2021, all CWC members will embark on a pilgrimage, a time of study and reflection, of prayer and storytelling, of walking and talking together on real and virtual paths.”

So, in the words of the anthem we sang last weekend, “Sister, Carry On!”

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CNWE Response to Pope Francis’ Querida Amazonia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                                  FEBRUARY 23, 2020

The members of CNWE support Pope Francis’ concern for the people and environment of the Pan-Amazon region. In his Apostolic Exhortation, “Querida Amazonia” however, Pope Francis continues to have a ‘blind spot’ regarding women in the church. We remain concerned that this ‘blind spot’ prevents the changes Pope Francis is hoping for, namely: lifting people out of poverty, protecting the environment, and revitalizing Catholic faith communities.

Overwhelming evidence indicates that when women have social, educational and economic opportunities equal to men, and freedom from discrimination and violence under the law, the prosperity of the whole community is significantly improved. The Catholic hierarchy needs to stop excluding women from “functional structures” of ministry and decision-making in the Church. Otherwise, they serve to perpetuate women’s second-class status in society, and contribute to the systemic causes of poverty, suffering and violence.  

Pope Francis poignantly laments the environmental destruction of the Amazon and he sees the enormous “imbalance of power” between for-profit corporations and communities trying to live sustainably. Pope Francis does not yet see however, a connection between the harmful ethos of domination over creation and the harmful ethos of male domination over women. Perhaps Pope Francis’ ‘blind spot’ is due in part to his failure to consult, even for his Encyclical Laudato si’, the decades of prophetic work by internationally respected feminist theologians on the intersectionality of forms of domination.

Pope Francis often states that ‘relationship’ should take precedence over ‘ideology’, yet healthy relationships are prevented in the Church because the hierarchy persists in promoting an ‘ideology of complementarity’. Complementarity assumes that women and men are biologically predestined for different roles. According to this binary model, men are the norm, and women are derivative. Pope Francis states: “Jesus Christ appears as the Spouse of the community that celebrates the Eucharist through the figure of a man who presides as a sign of the one Priest.” A biblical linguistic metaphor is thus amplified into the rationale for male-only priestly ministry. In contrast, roles for Catholic women in the church are modelled on idealized versions of Mary as ‘virgin’ or ‘mother’. Pope Francis says: “The Lord chose to reveal his power and his love through two human faces: the face of his divine Son made man and the face of a creature, a woman, Mary. Women make their contribution to the Church in a way that is properly theirs, by making present the tender strength of Mary, the Mother.” (101). Pope Francis suggests that women could do “other forms of service and charisms, proper to women” (102) because ordination would “clericalize” women and make their “contribution less effective” (100).  We believe that urgent, concrete changes to the male clerical structures of the Church are called for. Collaborative and inclusive models of broad-based ministries are not only possible, they are necessary if the Church hopes to be able to read and respond to the signs of our times. It is past time for the Church hierarchy to see that serving and leading ‘in the image of Christ’ is a call that belongs to all, by virtue of our dignity as human persons and our Christian baptism.

We call on Catholic Church leaders to see that the ideology of ‘complementarity’ is undergirded by centuries of sexism and misogyny. To cling to ‘maleness’ as the determining criterion for ordained ministry and leadership in the Catholic Church thwarts the proclamation of the Gospel. It deprives the church of women who are gifted and well-qualified to minister and lead. It is starving Catholic communities in Amazonia and elsewhere who might have an itinerant priest celebrate mass once a decade! It is, in truth, giving people stones, when they are asking for bread.

We agree with Pope Francis that “authentic solutions are never found by dampening boldness.” (105). With boldness, the members of CNWE join with Catholics around the globe, in respectfully asking Pope Francis, and Canadian and international bishops and clergy, to remove their ‘blind spot’ and recognize the gifts of Catholic women in their midst. At stake are the lives of the poor, the health of creation, and the flourishing of Catholic faith communities.

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CNWE Toronto Joins Global Action for Equality and Dignity for Women in the Catholic Church

All who support the equal participation of women in Catholic ministry and leadership are welcome! Please let us know you are coming! https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/toronto-joins-global-action-for-womens-equality-in-the-catholic-church-march-82020-tickets-96493541781?utm_term=eventurl_text

This action is part of Voices of Faith Global Action: https://voicesoffaith.org/english

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