Nunatsiaq News is irresponsible
I should like to correct some considerable misconceptions and wrongful statements in your recent editorial “The abuse of forgiveness” (October 24). I hope you will be good enough to publish this letter.
Firstly I wonder about your paper’s policy on translation. I wrote to you previously about the Diocese of The Arctic’s policy with regard to sexual abuse by members of the diocese, both ordained and non-ordained.
The English version of this letter was published on October 17, but neither in that edition or last week’s edition (October 24) was it ever translated into Inuktitut, unlike all the other letters on the subject. Was there some reason why your Inuktitut speaking readers were excluded from reading what I had written?
In your editorial you state, “Iyetsiak Simigak does not deserve to have excuses made for his conduct by his colleagues in the church…” And again “By his own admission Canon Benjamin Arreak who admitted to being a “representative of the Bishop” while he was in Kuujjuaq to make excuses on Simigak’s behalf, was not misquoted in the October 3 issue of Nunatsiak News.”
If you had taken the trouble to check your facts or even read the Canon’s letter, published on October 17, you would have known that the hearing did not take place in Kuujjuaq at all, but in Kangirsuk. If you cannot be accurate in your facts is it not also possible that your correspondent could be mistaken in quoting from Canon Arreak. He was not sent to Kangirsuk to “make excuses” for Mr. Simigak, but to lend support to him and his family at the time of his sentencing.
In his letter Canon Arreak writes, “…I was asked to go to Kangirsuk to represent the Bishop, because of the difficult time like this, and so Iyetsiak will know that the Bishop still cares about him and his family and the parish of Kangirsuk.”
It would appear that for some reason you are unwilling to accept the truth of this concern, which I did without in any way condoning Mr. Simigak’s actions, as was made clear in my own previous letter. That was all I was able to do at that time. The victims in the cases were juveniles and we are not able to obtain their names.
Later in our editorial you state: “The Anglican church has never explained why Simigak was allowed to preach long after he was charged, and has provided little reassurance that other churches in other places are safe for children. They tolerated a situation in which innocent children received communion from a man whose hands had been molesting them against their will.”
According to your original story Mr. Simigak was charged on December 1, 1993. Under the bold headline “Hid charges from the church.” you also state that he did not inform his superiors for fear of demotion (“lowered to lesser tasks”).
In fact the first that I knew of this case was in mid-September of this year, two weeks before Mr. Simigak’s sentencing hearing. This was when Suffragan Bishop Paul Idlout received a call from the defense lawyer in the Province of Quebec.
At that time Mr. Simigak was immediately suspended and the steps to provide support as outlined above were put in place. Although a longtime lay worker in the diocese of the Arctic Mr. Simigak was only ordained as a deacon in the church in the fall of 1995.
Before that time he would never have distributed Communion at all, but as a deacon he was authorized to distribute the bread and wine previously consecrated by a priest. Even as deacon he would not have distributed it to the children, in the Anglican Church only those confirmed by the bishop, usually in late teenage years, are permitted to receive communion.
Again you seem to be unwilling to accept what was written in your own paper about Mr. Simigak’s admission that he did not inform me or anyone else in authority. You then indulge in hyperbolic speculation which would have proved to be completely untrue had you only checked a few facts about Mr. Simigak’s career and the practices of the Anglican Church.
Finally you write, “In doing this the church has also sent a disturbing message to victims of sexual abuse everywhere: And that is that the church will do what it can to protect those who have hurt them and will welcome those abusers back to the fold as quietly and as quickly as possible.”
I can again only assume that you did not read my previous letter or that you refuse to accept its truth. I stated in that letter “…the diocese of the Arctic has a stated policy of “zero toleration: in all matters of wrongful sexual action on the part of the clergy or those engaged in lay ministry in the church. Such behavior cannot be condoned.”
I also wrote: “As Bishop I have already informed the clergy and lay-readers of the diocese that Eeyeetsiak Simigak is suspended for at least two years from his duties as clergy in Kangirsuk and the diocese. Such abuse as he is convicted of is not to be tolerated in any culture.”
Does showing concern for Mr. Simigak, his family and community as outlined above, a policy of “zero toleration” and a refusal to condone such behaviour really amount to “doing what it can do to protect (the offender)” as you have written?
Does informing all the clergy and lay-readers in the diocese and stating this openly in your paper constitute “welcoming back quietly”? Does imposing a sentence of at least two years, three times as long as the criminal courts imposed, suggest “welcoming back quickly”?
Another of your correspondents, Mr. McCann, whose letter appears alongside your editorial writes “This incident underlines once again the need for churches to clarify their position with credible statements and tough anti-abuse measures.”
The question of my credibility must surely rest with those who read and accept or reject what I write. However I wonder what can be clearer than “zero toleration”, refusal to condone and, in the case we are considering, a penalty three times larger than imposed by the court.
I feel, Mr. Bell, that what you wrote was irresponsible, ill-informed and showed that you had either not read what Canon Arreak, your own reporter and I had written or that you cannot accept the truth of what we state.
Rt. Rev. J.C.R. Williams
Bishop of The Arctic