Anglican Church put interests of alleged abusers ahead of victims, says woman whose trust was violated
WARNING: This article contains details of abuse.
It all started with a desire to make the church a safer place.
In early 2021, Cydney Proctor and two other people spoke to a reporter for the Anglican Journal, the national newspaper of the Anglican Church of Canada. The trio were interviewed about alleged sexual misconduct they said they’d experienced at the hands of men connected to the church.
They had told the reporter about trying to report their alleged abusers to the church — processes that they said they found frustrating and retraumatizing. The Journal assured the sources the piece would be free of any details that could identify them.
But in an email to Proctor on May 12, 2021, the reporter, staff writer Joelle Kidd, shared bad news.
She explained she’d finished a draft of the story, and said it had been shared with the Journal’s publisher — the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada. This was common practice if a story promised to be controversial with potential legal implications.
But, Kidd continued, unbeknownst to her or her editor, the draft was also sent out to the Anglican dioceses and colleges that the sources critiqued in the piece. This meant the very institutions the women believe previously mishandled their various allegations of sexual misconduct were given a chance to pore over a draft — with potentially identifying details in it.
“It’s one of those things where if I didn’t laugh about it, I was going to cry about it, and just like probably never stop crying,” Proctor, 31, said from her home in Halifax.
Proctor was angry that, in her view, the church had again put the interests of alleged abusers and their employers before complainants.
A full year after the breach came to light, the church’s efforts to make amends have fallen flat for the three sources and hundreds of Anglicans across the country who are demanding accountability for the breach and change in how the Anglican Church of Canada treats those who come forward to report sexual misconduct.
Frustrated with how complaints were handled by church
As a young person growing up in Nova Scotia, Proctor was a committed member of the Anglican community, volunteering with a number of groups, organizing and attending church events regularly.
Beginning in 2008, when Proctor was in her late teens and early 20s, she says she experienced varying forms of sexual misconduct from three different men with ties to the Anglican church.
The timeline of her interactions with the different men overlaps. She didn’t take her allegations to police, but she did report each of them to various Anglican bodies that had authority, and said she got mixed results.
Her allegations against the men range from explicit messages to an attempted sexual assault. And while there were some consequences levied out by the institutions where she reported, two of the three are still working as Anglican clergy persons as far as she knows, and the other is still involved in the church community. CBC News did not investigate the claims.
Proctor said the stress of her experiences left her dealing with mental health challenges, including depression. She was struggling in school and drifting away from the church.
As years passed, Proctor said she still felt frustrated with how her different complaints had been handled.
She wanted to do more, and said she felt like speaking to a reporter might be the answer. In early 2021, she approached the Anglican Journal with her story.
Sources offered anonymity
She wasn’t the only one. Around that same time, two other people also reached out to the publication making their own allegations that they were victims of sexual misconduct by people affiliated with the Anglican Church. They, too, believed the church’s accountability process had failed them.
CBC News requested interviews with the two other sources who spoke to the Anglican Journal through an intermediary, but they did not provide a response. CBC News is not identifying the sources or their alleged abusers.
The Journal’s editor at the time, Matthew Townsend, assigned a feature to delve into their stories and the cultural side of how allegations are handled by the church.
“How does the church view complaints? How does it handle them?” Townsend explained during an interview from his home in Dartmouth, N.S., in April. “And does it do it in a way that is sensitive to the people who say they’ve been harmed?”
Townsend assigned the piece to Kidd in early 2021 and then stepped away for a few months of parental leave. He expected that when he came back in May 2021 the story would be ready for editing. Kidd declined an interview request for this story.
Townsend said given the nature of the piece, the Journal took the unusual step of telling the sources they would be allowed to review the story before it was published so they could make sure no identifying details had been included.
All three sources were offered anonymity, though Proctor said she asked to be named in the final piece.
‘The worst thing I ever experienced in my career’
The Anglican Journal and its relationship with the church is complicated. The church is the owner and publisher, but the Journal’s mandate is one that is journalistic. Staff are journalists who work in similar ways to reporters and editors at other Canadian media outlets.
Townsend said it wasn’t unusual for church leadership to review a draft of a controversial or legally fraught stories. He knew the sexual misconduct investigation would be one such story.
While he was away, church leadership requested a draft. Townsend said it wasn’t close to what the finished piece would be and contained details that could potentially identify the three sources even though their names, including Proctor’s, had been replaced by pseudonyms in this version.
The draft was shared with the Anglican Church of Canada primate Archbishop Linda Nicholls, the church’s director of communications, and general secretary Alan Perry.
Townsend said Kidd and the editor acting for him were assured the draft would not be shared elsewhere. But Perry shared the draft with the institutions that were the subject of the three sources’ complaints.
On Townsend’s first day back at work in May 2021, he realized what had happened.
“It’s the worst thing I ever experienced in my career, for sure. I was mortified by it . . . it was sickening, to be frank. These survivors had approached us very courageously, wanting to share their stories,” he said.
Draft shared for fact-checking, church says
Townsend said he immediately began to push for the church to take steps to resolve the situation. An inquiry was planned and an apology was offered to the three sources, but Townsend said he didn’t believe the church understood the gravity of the breach.
About a month later, both he and Kidd resigned.
In a May interview, Nicholls said the draft was shared in order to fact check with the involved institutions. Her account of what happened differs from Townsend’s and other critics.
She said her office believed the draft they received was nearly the final version and said they weren’t told about the conditions offered to the three sources. She said they didn’t — and still don’t — think there was any identifying information in the draft.
“The draft indicated that the sources of the story were protected in the story, so we did not feel we were sharing anything that was not going to be published imminently,” she said.
Asked if church leadership told the journalists the draft wouldn’t be shared beyond its office, Nicholls said not to her knowledge, but that she doesn’t know for sure.
A systemic issue
The church hired an external reviewer to complete an inquiry report into the journalistic breach, which was delivered Aug. 11, 2021, according to a summary response to the incident prepared by Nicholls in September and later shared publicly.
“The current situation is primarily a systemic issue resulting from this lack of clarity, misinformation and situational circumstances that are not the responsibility of any single person alone,” she said in that summary.
The church committed to an 18-month process to review and improve communication and processes between management and journalism staff. Nicholls declined to provide an update on how the process is going.
During the interview with CBC News, Nicholls said the actual inquiry report was only shared with people within the church who deal with journalistic matters so that they can understand what happened.
The church has not given the report to Proctor and the two other sources.
“The report is not about the sources or about their previous experiences. The report is about how the church house handled the journalistic side of dealing with this article,” Nicholls said.
‘Symptomatic of a larger problem in the church’
Releasing the report to the sources is one of the key demands of a group of Anglicans calling on Anglican leadership to hold someone accountable for the breach of trust.
Theology doctoral students and Anglicans Carolyn Mackie and Michael Buttrey were among those in the church community who were aware of what had happened.
They decided to form a movement called ACCToo — a play on “#MeToo” (the ACC stands for Anglican Church of Canada) that came to define online conversation around sexual abuse and survivors sharing their stories.
Working with the three sources’ permission, they crafted an open letter calling for:
- Releasing the inquiry report to the sources;
- Requiring General Secretary Alan Perry, who circulated the draft, to resign;
- Publishing an apology admitting wrongdoing in the Anglican Journal.
Once the letter was ready, they started gathering signatures online.
“We see this as symptomatic of a larger problem in the church,” Mackie said. “And because of that, it seemed appropriate that addressing the problem should also invite the participation of the church itself.”
High-ranking clergy sign open letter
When the letter was first published in February, they only had about a dozen names. Now, there are nearly 450. The names on the list include Anglicans from across the country, from lay people to clergy of various rank. Even the bishop of Quebec, Rt. Rev. Bruce Myers — the highest ranking position in a diocese — signed the letter.
Rev. Jordan Haynie Ware, the social justice and community connection archdeacon for the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton, is one of the many clergy signatories. Given her position and her experience in her own diocese, Ware said it made sense to sign the letter and to start from a position of believing people who say they’ve been harmed.
“Maybe there are things that the primate knows about that she’s holding back. But I would like to see a really clear response that indicates why they don’t feel that they can live up to the three calls,” she said.
The letter sparked a flurry of responses, including a majority opinion from the Anglican Journal editorial board that the inquiry process was not sufficiently independent.
The board added that the inquiry report — even a redacted version — contains potentially identifying information about the sources.
Despite there being various understandings of what happened, the board said it’s clear people were harmed, and that those responsible for the breach should face consequences.
The responses and signatures have not swayed Nicholls.
The archbishop apologized publicly in a written response to the ACCToo letter, and repeated that apology during her interview with CBC News.
“I am deeply sorry for the breach of trust that led to the pain that the three sources have felt,” Nicholls said. “The retraumatization of what they experienced in the past because of our failure — that is of deep concern.”
Nicholls has said it was never church leadership’s intention that the story not be published. But after the breach, Townsend didn’t feel the article could proceed and said one of the sources asked for work on it to be paused because they felt betrayed.
In response to the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ACCtoo?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ACCtoo</a> letter, CoGS commits the Church to do better, but critics say its response falls short. <a href=”https://t.co/y6xpaMZBY7″>https://t.co/y6xpaMZBY7</a>
Nicholls offered to meet with the three sources — even through a mediator so they could remain anonymous — but that offer hasn’t been accepted.
But the archbishop stands by how the church handled the situation. She said she was surprised when the open letter was published.
The attention it has garnered was also unexpected for its authors. Buttrey said he thinks that’s a reflection of the wider Anglican community’s concern about how leadership has handled the situation.
“I think the senior leadership of the church believes that they sit at the heart of the Anglican Church and they know what is best for it. I don’t think that’s true,” he said.
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.