GUELPH/ERAMOSA – Five priests who served with the Jesuit Church in Guelph/Eramosa between 1950 and 2000 are believed to have sexually abused several children.
The revelations stem from a “comprehensive audit of all cases of abuse and boundary violations,” Jesuits of Canada leader Father Erik Oland wrote in a letter published online on March 13.
“Over the past three or more decades, revelations of grievous abuse by clergy dating back many generations have come to light, and the church has been slow to respond,” Oland wrote.
A Toronto-based company was hired to review personnel records, consultor files and correspondence with superiors dating back to the 1950s.
In a move the church claims is in the interest of “transparency, accountability, justice and healing,” a list of all priests who have been “credibly accused of abuse of a minor” was published following the review, completed this year.
The church considers “the word of a credible victim … to be our guide,” and includes accusations from witnesses, parishioners, civil authorities or clergy “where it appears more likely than not that an offence occurred.”
It’s not said how many children were sexually abused by the 27 men on the list.
Francis Whelan, who served at the University of Guelph sometime after 1964, is one of three men who are still alive.
Possibly indicating why the church waited decades before making the information public, Oland wrote the church went “through phases” of denial, victim blaming, and moral incompetence.
The church first acknowledged its abuses in the early ‘90s and the review with a promise to publish names was announced in December 2019 before getting underway in 2020.
The “vast majority” of allegations, Oland wrote, came to light after priests died.
In some cases, abuses were never litigated, though in many instances, sworn testimony from civil lawsuits was relied on during the review.
The five priests who served in Guelph/Eramosa at the Loyola House and what used to be the Ignatius Jesuit College just outside of Guelph, all died between 1986 and 2000.
George Epoch, who died in 1986 at the age of 66, was assigned to posts in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
He was assigned to the Loyola Retreat House sometime after he was ordained in the 1950s, but the list doesn’t indicate when he was posted there.
Epoch was also known to be a serial abuser, having reportedly sexually abused more than 100 children in First Nations communities.
The four remaining priests were assigned to what was then the Ignatius Jesuit College — now the Ignatius Jesuit Centre — with a slogan of “a place of peace.”
It’s not stated when the priests were there but the college was established in 1958, according to the Ignatius Jesuit Centre website.
It’s not disclosed by the church how many children are suspected of being abused by the priests, but according to its list, all five priests that served in Guelph/Eramosa have had multiple credible allegations made against them.
George Topp died in 1997, at the age of 76, and was also posted to locations in Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
Lorne Trainor died in 2000, at the age of 77, and also worked for the church at a Newfoundland high school.
William Savoie died in 1989, at the age of 91, and was also placed in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Quebec.
William Westaway died in 1987, at the age of 79, and was posted in Saskatchewan and at a residential school in northern Ontario, about 100km west of Sudbury.
Oland noted more allegations may surface, and the list of names should be considered a “living document.”
Today, the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph/Eramosa is home to the Loyola House, used for spiritual retreats and religious training. The property spans 600 acres with an old growth forest and the Ignatius Farm.
The Jesuits, also known as The Society of Jesus, are a men’s Catholic religious order, founded in 1540.
There are said to be around 20,000 Jesuits across the world today, of which 208 are actively serving members belonging to the Jesuits of Canada.
Correction – March 15: This story has been corrected from an earlier version that inadvertently omitted priest William Savoie from those mentioned. There were four Jesuit priests on the church’s disclosure list who served at Ignatius Jesuit College, not three.