QUEBEC CITY – As many Canadians celebrate National Acadian Day on August 15th, the largest Acadian diocese in the world is going through the greatest crisis in its history.
Archbishop Valery Vienneau of Moncton, New Brunswick said that in order for the church to move forward it must seek justice for the many victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Archbishop Vienneau, a former chaplain at the French-speaking University of Moncton, was Bishop of the Diocese of Bathurst, New Brunswick from 2002 to 2012. It was there that he was first confronted with the reality of sexual abuse in the Church when many The Victims began to seek compensation for what they had suffered from some priests.
Archbishop Vienneau was named Archbishop of Moncton in 2012. The year before, revelations of abuse by Father Camille Leger in the coastal village of Cap-Pele triggered a wave of indignation.
“When I arrived in Moncton in 2012, I knew I was going to get into something like this because it started in 2011. But I didn’t know how far the problem was,” said Archbishop Wieneau.
“The most difficult thing I found is that I come from Cap-Pele. That means that the victims are my age or younger,” said the archbishop, who was 10 years old when Father Leger came to his village.
“I’ve told people that as a former parishioner I was just as disappointed as they were. It’s no different because I’m a bishop.”
At least two dioceses have asked Michel Bastarache, a former Supreme Court judge, to lead the compensation process for the victims. However, many victims have chosen not to follow this process and prefer to go to court.
“With everything I live, I sometimes – I have to be honest – would like to leave,” said Archbishop Vienna. “But I don’t want to leave this to someone else. I want to try to solve this problem so that another (bishop) can come and focus on pastoral issues.”
Archbishop Vienneau estimates the Archdiocese of Moncton will pay between $ 8 million and $ 10 million ($ 6.1 million to $ 7.6 million). “The victims are entitled to compensation. Their integrity has been violated. We as a church have a justice to repair.”
Acadians are descendants of French colonists who settled in Canada’s eastern maritime provinces as well as parts of Quebec and Maine. The interior of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption of Moncton is decorated that tells the story of the Acadian people, including those who were deported or fled to the United States and eventually formed the Cajun community.
Erected in the late 1930s and listed as a historical monument in 2017, the cathedral was threatened with demolition due to its degradation. In 2012 the decision to demolish was almost final. However, a project to house Acadian organizations in his basement resulted in raising awareness and saving it.
“The important thing is that people see us working on the cathedral every summer. People give money, but they don’t want it to be used for sexual abuse settlements,” said the archbishop. The archdiocese still owns the cathedral, but its administration is entrusted to a secular body.
The archdiocese has around 50 parishes. All are already grouped together in “Pastoral Units”, with the exception of the parish on the University of Moncton campus. A study commissioned by the diocese found that 19 of the parishes are economically in danger and four will be closed this year.
The future of Moncton’s pastoral ministry remains fragile. There are currently two candidates for the priesthood: a Filipino and a former Presbyterian pastor. A new program for permanent diaconate is bearing fruit with a first deacon. A baptismal preparation program has trained hundreds of volunteers over the past few years.
“I don’t have a lot of staff, so I can’t handle many situations. But we’re doing our best,” said Archbishop Vienna.
To compensate the abuse victims, Moncton had to sell its diocesan center and reduce its workforce from 14 employees, almost all of whom worked full-time. The archdiocese now has nine employees, only two of whom are full-time – including the archbishop. Wages were cut.
“We cannot develop what we want. We no longer have youth ministry,” said Archbishop Vienna, who noted that the archdiocese had supported some youth initiatives.
A situation that worries him about the future of the Faith among the Acadians, for which the Church has played a role in the preservation and cultural transmission throughout history.
“Today we do not seem inclined to want to preserve the tradition, the symbols, the things that have really shaped our identity. It evaporates, it does not take root. What will be left after a few generations?” said Archbishop Vienneau, who noted that the Acadian national anthem – “Ave Maris Stella” (“Heil, Stern der Meer”) – is less and less known and sung. “The Church was the strength of the Acadians. Who do we turn to today?”
He believes that in such a context the Moncton Church will inexorably shrink but be called to be “stronger, more alive”.
“I wish we could find the pride of being Catholics again,” said the archbishop. “Because of everything that happened, we’ve lost some credibility. A lot of credibility. It seems we’re a little ashamed. If you don’t have that pride, I think it is damaging the vitality of the Church. How can you get involved? If you’re not proud to be a member of this church? But I don’t blame people: people aren’t to blame for what happened. But that is reflected in everyone. We’re still lucky that the People keep going despite everything that has happened. “