Bishop's Arrest Was The Last Straw

November 2, 2009

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Former Havre Boucher resident says original settlement let church off hook too easily

HAVRE BOUCHER — Only a few weeks have passed since Philip Latimer went public with allegations dating back 30 years of sexual molestation against a Roman Catholic priest in this small community.

In many ways, these have been difficult weeks.

"I had never really told anyone about what happened," recalled Mr. Latimer, an unemployed welder now living in Pleasant Hill, Inverness County.

"I told my wife and I tried to tell my mother years ago and I told a minister one time. I never went into any details, just that it happened."

And the 47-year-old father of three would have been content to keep it that way. He admits there is a kind of peace in hiding the truth.

When a $13-million court settlement was reached in September between the Diocese of Antigonish and victims of sexual abuse, Mr. Latimer said he was aware of it but didn't pay much attention.

"My wife said, 'Do you think you might be a part of that?' and I said, 'Nah, that's not me; it's for someone else,' and I said I don't want their crappy money anyway."

Two weeks afterwards, the very man who helped broker the settlement with victims on behalf of the diocese was arrested for possession and importation of child pornography.

"When Bishop Raymond Lahey was arrested, that was it for me," said Mr. Latimer.

He wanted no part of the settlement.

"The settlement is like a plastic olive branch. It has no life and the leaves are all dead.

"Throw money at the victims and don't let them speak about what happened to them, don't let them ask why the bishops and the cardinals just moved these priests from one parish to another when they got caught. That was the attitude."

He knew he couldn't stay silent any longer.

Soon afterwards, he contacted an Ottawa lawyer, saying he wanted to launch his own lawsuit against the diocese.

Mr. Latimer then found out his brother Warren had suffered the same fate as he did as an altar boy.

"We know there are many, many more victims out there," Philip Latimer said.

So it was with more than a little trepidation that he walked into the firehall in this Antigonish County community Friday night.

Before joining his lawyer, Paul Ledroit, onstage, Mr. Latimer spoke with one of his seven sisters.

"If anyone gets up and tears a strip off me, don't say anything," Mr. Latimer said told his sister.

"I can take it."

She smiled encouragingly at him.

For the first time, the stocky man with the tidy goatee was to speak publicly in front of former neighbours and friends, some of whom he feared could revile him and some of whom may have had similar experiences to his.

"I always thought it was only me it happened to and then I come to understand there were others," he said.

When he took the stage, he was performing a high-wire act without a net.

In the years since he was molested, he has never received counselling.

Nonetheless, he feels it's important to speak about what happened to him over 30 years ago when he was an altar boy at St. Paul's Church and Father Allan MacDonald was the parish priest.

Coincidentally, the church is located next to the firehall where the meeting was held.

Father MacDonald died in 2004 before answering to 27 charges that he violated up to 18 children when he was a priest in the diocese.

"People have been coming to me since I first spoke about this and I've been getting emails from people who are absolutely stressed, people whose lives have been destroyed by these things," said Mr. Latimer.

"People have been suffering in silence, who've died and took this ugly thing done against them to their grave," he said.

"I don't want any more people to die with this burden trapped in their soul and I don't want any more suicides.

"Most of all, we gotta help the kids it's happening to now and we've got to make sure there are no more."

There were fewer than 50 people who gathered at the hall to hear him speak, but they were more than glad to give him a standing ovation.

Mr. Latimer said he will seek out more victims and will take part in more public meetings.

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