Pathways Foundation

Gemma Hickey, founder of Pathways Foundation, talks giving a voice to the voiceless in our latest Q&A. 


Where harm has occurred within religious institutions, Pathways aims to promote healing and prevent harm from reoccurring. Formed by survivor of clergy sexual abuse and inspiring trailblazer Gemma Hickey in the fall of 2014, Pathways Foundation Inc. is the first organization of its kind in Canada. 

Hickey caught up with The Newfoundland Herald to discuss recent progression in the organization, setting a national precedent and being a voice to the voiceless. 

What does it mean to you and the Pathways Foundation to have the support and recent funding from the provincial government and St. John’s Edge? Certainly a great step in the right direction. 

Pathways is delighted to have received this endorsement from the Department of Justice and Public Safety and the St. John’s Edge. It means a great deal to survivors of clergy abuse to know that even if we don’t feel supported by our church, our province and team have our backs. A small gesture goes a long way. 

The organization as a whole is still operating on the remaining funds raised from my walk across Newfoundland in July 2015 so we didn’t apply for core or project funding this year. That’s on our list for the coming years. We put in an official request for specific funds to hire a special facilitator with expertise in the area of trauma to develop and train our volunteers on how to properly run a support group of this nature. It was the only service we didn’t have the capacity to offer up until this point. This type of abuse comes with additional layers, not only have survivors of religious institutional abuse been harmed sexually, physically and emotionally – they have also been harmed spiritually because the person who abused them represented God. 

Pathways is the first organization of its kind in the country. What have you been hearing from those interested in replicating something similar across Canada? 

Based on the mishandling of my case by the Archdiocese of St. John’s, which resulted in the priest who sexually abused me being placed back into the church because my file was suddenly “lost” (his picture still hangs on the wall of the parish where the abuse took place even after the current bishop was alerted), I felt something had to be done to support other survivors given that I have a profile within the community. I thought to myself, “If this could happen to me, what else has been happening to others like me?” 

Being the first of its kind in the country, I’ve been contacted from people all over the world. In particular, I’ve heard from a number of survivors from Belvedere and Mount Cashel orphanages who live elsewhere and from healthcare professionals, lawyers, authors and journalists who applaud the organization’s mission and vision. Most importantly, I’ve heard from survivors right here at home. And there are an untold number of survivors out there. Many haven’t come forward yet and others had their cases settled silently, outside of court. We want survivors and their families to know we’re here whenever they’re ready.

With confidence and confidentiality in mind, what have you been hearing from those who have sought help and guidance from Pathways? Is there a similar sentiment and message from those the foundation has helped?

Pathways is still building its client base. We’re doing groundbreaking work thanks to partnerships with departments from Memorial University’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Thanks to the influence of Dr. Patricia Dold, we even flew renowned scholar Dr. Robert Orsi, who has focused his research on the Roman Catholic sexual abuse crisis, in to give a talk. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Dorothy Vaandering, we’ve lobbied bishops all across the country to remove the Raymond Lahey letter from hymnals. We’re planning to host an academic conference within the next few years on campus because St. John’s is really ground zero when it comes to this type of abuse. 

Some of our clients are family members of people who were abused within religious institutions and others are survivors themselves. Either way, the organization is still growing. There was a gap in services for survivors like me and Pathways has bridged that gap as well as broken the culture of secrecy and silence that has surrounded this issue in order to create a safe space for survivors and their families to walk the long and winding path towards healing. This scandal has become a global crisis due to the mismanagement of abuse cases and the lack of accountability from church officials.

Where would you like to see Pathways go moving forward? 

Pathways has formed some wonderful partnerships with community organizations like the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre, Coastline Consultants, United Way to name a few, but our goal is for the organization to exist in our own building now that a strong foundation has been laid. 

Once our work on developing the support group is complete, we’ll increase our fundraising efforts in order to sustain the organization long term. I’m proud of the work we’ve done so far. 

We had hoped there wouldn’t be another trial. I forgave the current bishop and facilitated a relationship with him in order to emphasize the importance of settling outside of court. The trial not only set survivors back, it also set the province back. 

News footage from the trial and the response of the local diocese was triggering for survivors. All of our efforts and resources as an organization were focused on the trial. 

Now that it’s over and the verdict was in favour of the local diocese, the appeal process has begun. The verdict was devastating for all survivors, especially the John Does from the trial, because the appeal process can take years and these men are elderly. They should be able to live the rest of their lives in peace.

Any parting remarks for our readers? 

Our abusers may or may not serve jail time, but survivors are the ones who serve a life sentence. I’ll never fully recover from what happened to me. I’ve just learned to live with it. Turning something bad into something good has been transformative. Helping others that have had similar experiences has truly helped me heal and that has given me the fuel I need to keep on going.

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