$2M Abuse Case Settlement

May 8, 2009

By: Peter Edwards, TheStar.com

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Largest settlement of an individual case in Canadian history

In what's believed to be the largest settlement of its kind, the Roman Catholic Diocese of London has agreed to pay more than $2-million to Lou Ann Soontiens of Chatham, for the long-time sexual abuse she suffered from her priest while she was a child.

"This is the largest settlement that we've ever heard of," lawyer Robert Talach of Ledroit Beckett Litigation Lawyers in London said today. For her part, Soontiens, 51, said the money won't dramatically change her life. "I'm just going to be me," she said at a press conference. "I cut my grass," she said. "I don't travel. I'm a homebody. I don't plan changing at all, except to heal."

She said she has lost all faith in the church, but hopes reforms are made to forbid children from being alone with adults. Her civil suit was to begin on Monday. Father Charles Sylvestre pleaded guilty in 2006 to sexually assaulting 47 women, including Sootiens.

He died three months into his three-year prison sentence. Sootiens cried briefly today as she spoke of the pain of five years of childhood sexual abuse, starting at age 12. The abuse began 41 years ago, when she was just 12, she said. "It went on over the next five years at least weekly and sometimes more often," lawyer Paul Ledroit said.

At age 14, she became pregnant by Sylvestre, who arranged for her to have an abortion. The Catholic diocese has settled cases with more than 50 Sylvestre victims, while more than a dozen cases are still in litigation. The diocese is expected to release a statement later today.

Sootiens was abandoned by her mother when she was six months old and was raised by her devoutly Roman Catholic grandfather. She said she told her grandfather and a nun about the abuse, but was called a liar.

She said she has two children of her own, who haven't been baptized. "I have no faith," she said. "I don't believe in God. If there was a God, why didn't he help me?" She said she may reopen a dog grooming business. Asked if she trusts animals more than people, she smiled and replied quickly, "Yes."

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