Abuse Victims Settle With Church

October 17, 2008

By: Carol Mulligan, The Sudbury Star

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There isn't enough gold in the Vatican to erase the suffering two men endured as child sexual abuse victims of a Roman Catholic priest in Warren almost 40 years ago, says one of the men.

But now that their legal battle with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie is over, they intend to focus on healing and reaching out to help other victims.

Robert Berube, 53, and a man who wishes only to be known as Claude, 49, held a news conference in Sudbury on Thursday to talk about their fight for justice.

The men were joined by lawyer Rob Talach, of the London-based firm Ledroit Beckett Litigation Lawyers.

The diocese recently settled a suit with the men for years of sexual abuse suffered at the hands of Father Jean-Claude Etienne when he was parish priest at St. Thomas Apotre Parish and St. Thomas Separate School in Warren, which both men attended at different times.

"Some will misconstrue and state that we became multimillionaires at the expense of the diocese. Far from it," said Berube. "Claude and myself, we did not win the Lotto, and we did not do the happy dance."

Berube was suing the diocese for $3.1 million and Claude for $4.5 million for pain and suffering they said were the result of abuse by the priest they once loved. Etienne died in 1997 at the age of 66.

Berube came forward in July 2005 with claims of having been controlled, brutalized and raped by Etienne for 3 1/2 years, starting in 1969 when he was 13.

Claude announced in February 2007 he had filed a lawsuit against the diocese, alleging that when he was 10 and a devout altar boy, Etienne began sexually abusing, assaulting and molesting him for three years.

Talach said his clients, whose claims were resolved out of court, reached a "reasonable settlement" with the diocese.

"We're not going to get into (the amount) or terms" of those settlements, Talach told a half dozen reporters at the Radisson Hotel.

Berube called the settlement "agreeable," adding his "quest was for justice and healing. It was never for money."

To have "stayed and gone to court to get the last penny, it's wrong," he told reporters.

Berube was suing the diocese for $3.1 million and Claude for $4.5 million for pain and suffering they said were the result of abuse by the priest they once loved.

Etienne died in 1997 at the age of 66.

Berube was a school principal living in London, Ont., several years ago when he filed his lawsuit against the diocese.

Claude came forward with his claims of abuse almost two years after Berube, who held a news conference to announce he would no longer suffer silently.

Claude still lives in Warren and still shudders when he walks or drives past the church where some of the abuse Etienne inflicted on him was perpetrated.

Other men claiming to have been child victims of Etienne have come forward since Berube and Claude went public, and some were at Thursday's news conference, said Berube.

Talach said his clients' case against the diocese regarding the Etienne allegations got a boost from witnesses who "spoke up so the truth could be known ...

"As a result of the public's awareness of this matter, information was obtained, which assisted in corroborating their claims of abuse," said Talach, reading from a prepared statement.

The most dramatic information received was about a letter sent to Etienne in July 1970 by Alexander Carter, who was then bishop of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie.

"The letter, which was viewed by a witness, warned Etienne to stay away from a number of altar boys due to complaints from their parents," said Talach. "It listed a number of local boys by name."

Talach couldn't say if more lawsuits would be filed because of Etienne's abuse.

"But if he's as prolific as I learned he was through our investigation in these two cases, I won't be surprised if there's more."

Talach said the abuse Etienne inflicted on young boys was so traumatic, "many of the leads we followed led to suicides, usually related to drugs or alcohol. There's a clear link to childhood sexual abuse, though."

After Berube went public with his lawsuit in 2005, he said he heard from more than 50 men in the North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie areas who claim to have been abused by priests when they were children.

Many have filed lawsuits against the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie.

Talach said Claude's case, which was announced at the same time as two others, was accelerated to be dealt with at the same time as Berube's.

"The other cases are trudging along through our civil litigation system, which is famous for being anything but fast."

Talach said Berube and Claude have received "some justice. I say some and not absolute justice, for their abuser died without having to account for his crimes.

"Another irreversible fact is that the damage inflicted upon their minds and souls will never completely fade."

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