Beckett Personal Injury Office In Downtown London

May 8, 2009

Abuse Victim Wins Massive Settlement From Canadian Catholic Diocese

by Donald Mcarthur, Canwest News Service, The National Post

WINDSOR, Ont. -- A victim of pedophile priest Charles Sylvestre has secured a record-setting settlement from the London, Ont. diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, just days before her civil lawsuit was to proceed to trial.

Lou Ann Soontiens, who endured five years of abuse as a girl and underwent a forced abortion, will share her story and announce details of the historic settlement Friday in London.

It is believed to be in the seven-figure range and, according to her lawyer, Robert Talach, it is "the largest settlement of an individual sexual abuse case in Canadian history."

The settlement was reached Tuesday evening.

Sylvestre was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty in 2006 to sexually assaulting 47 girls over 40 years in Windsor, Chatham, Pain Court, Sarnia and London. Publicity surrounding his case prompted more victims to come forward. Sylvestre died in Kingston Penitentiary in January 2007, less than four months into his sentence.

Mr. Talach said Ms. Soontiens was both excited and disappointed to have reached a settlement on the eve of her civil trial, which she filed three years ago and which was set for trial Monday.

"There was excitement that it was done and that the long haul was over but there was some disappointment that the full story of Sylvestre has yet to be told," said Mr. Talach of Ledroit Beckett in London.

"As you can appreciate, the public has not had exposure to the full facts of what happened here. Some of the evidence is protected until it is used in a trial and some of the evidence is new."

Mark Adkinson, spokesman for the diocese of London, said church officials were pleased to have reached a "fair and reasonable settlement" with Ms. Soontiens and were "committed to living up to our responsibilities and obligations to victims and their search for justice and truth."

Adkinson added the Church was "sorry for all the hurt" that Ms. Soontiens and other victims of Sylvestre have experienced. The church will continue to offer counselling to Sylvestre's victims as "part of the healing process," said Mr. Adkinson.

Mr. Talach said Ms. Soontiens' story is a "roller-coaster of facts and misery" and that she was sharing it in a bid to empower victims who have been abused or are being abused.

"She wants the focus to be on the fact that there are other women out there still seeking justice," said Mr. Talach.

"She also wants people out there who may be suffering abuse right now, or young children who are afraid to speak up, to take from her example that justice can be achieved."

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