A Talbot grad’s courage

In four decades as a journalist, I saw many people do brave things, but I can’t offhand think of anything more courageous than the letter I received last night from Sean McSween, a pharmacist and former resident of Talbot House, the addiction recovery centre now closed due to false allegations of sexual misconduct against its former executive director, Fr. Paul Abbass.

To whom it may concern:

I am a professional (pharmacist) married (since 1999) man. I had some difficulty in life, partly due to an abusive home life while growing up and partly due to poor choices of my own.

I spent nearly ten months at Talbot House in 2001-2002. One thing I can say, and will say on record, is that Father Paul Abbass was a kind and solid psychological and spiritual presence for me. On no occasion was he a threat to my sense of wellbeing. Nor did I see any kind of misbehaviour on his part. In fact, I often saw the politics of resentment and envy — levied by some of my disturbed co-residents — threaten the sanctuary Fr. Abbass built. It seems the sick have prevailed.

When I was a resident at Talbot House, Father Paul Abbass and I went for a number of drives down to a Catholic hermitage near the Bras D’or Lakes south of Frenchvale and simply talked about life, my marriage, my anguish, my addiction, my violent (and sometimes wonderful) childhood, and ultimately my — and his — love of the beautiful natural world before our very eyes. No threat did I even once feel from him. Only love and good intention. Father Paul rescued me from a hell of cynicism and despair. I won’t ever forget the kind days he shared with me.

Sean McSween

Before publishing Mr. McSween’s letter, I wrote him back to confirm that he wanted me to use his name. “I think it will make [your letter] doubly effective,” I wrote, “but I will totally understand if you prefer not.”

Mr. McSween replied:

Certainly, use my name. I hoped that would lend it strength….

I don’t want to seek any personal glory, but only to help exonerate Father Paul and re-open Talbot House under his direction, and the direction of the Church he so skilfully represents.

Father Paul is an exemplary Catholic Christian, in that he does not proselytise with fire-and-brimstone, or even with scripture, but with acts of loving kindness and a collected, calm presence. So I feel that the presence and influence of the Church in the operation of Talbot House is essential.

A Community Services Department report on Talbot House and Fr. Abbass contained erroneous financial analysis and many factual mistakes. The report — published after CBRM Police looked into the case, and found no basis for a criminal investigation — also included vague, anonymously sourced allegations of unspecified sexual misconduct by Fr. Abbass. When combined with the other mistakes that litter the report, it reads like a deliberate smear.

Yet Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse, with the backing of the Dexter government, has refused to withdraw the report or apologize to the man it falsely accused. Her behaviour stands in marked contrast to the courage displayed by Sean McSween.