Care for Victims, Church Urged; Survivors of Abuse by 'Monster' Priests Need Help

February 17, 2007

By: Sudbury Star

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The lawyer for three men suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie for $13.5 million is appealing to the diocese and Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe to do the right thing.

Robert Talach represents three men who allege they were sexually abused by four priests - three of whom are dead - decades ago in parishes in Sault Ste. Marie, Warren and North Bay.

The men were six to 15 years old when the abuse began. They have suffered physical and mental agony, lost educational and work opportunities, and crippling self-blame ever since, Talach said.

His clients need "true Christian ministry right now," Talach said at a news conference Friday.

"They need the understanding and the care the Roman Catholic faith was founded to provide."

Talach urged the diocese to be progressive and give them the financial, psychological and spiritual assistance "they so desperately need right now."

His three clients sat with him for 90 minutes at a table in a meeting room at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Sudbury.

Propped up against water glasses in front of each were photographs of the men taken about the time they allege they were sexually abused.

Robert Berube, 50, formerly of Sudbury, who in 2005 launched a similar suit against the diocese, joined the men. Berube is on sick leave from his job as a school principal in London and works with an organization called SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests).

He was there to provide moral support to Jim Lanigan, 59, Daniel Contant, 53, and a man who wishes only to be known by his first name, Claude, because he hasn't told some family members what he experienced as a child.

Talach asked reporters to be sensitive when posing questions to the men who have suffered what he called a "devastating affliction."

The men are victims, not only because they were sexually abused, but because of the fundamental breach of trust during their formative years.

Part of the purpose of the public news event was to allow the men to "release their demons" and exorcise their pain, shame and guilt.

Talach said the lawsuits were not an attack on the Roman Catholic faith, but on fallible humans involved in the organization.

"There are wonderful, holy men who serve in the priesthood," said Talach. "There are also some monsters operating in the cloth."

His clients allege they encountered monsters when they were young and impressionable, and believed their priests were God.

Claude, 48, sat ashen-faced early in the news conference. Later, he pointed to a large picture of himself as a child.

"That's the guy that got raped," he said. "I was gonna' die."

Claude said he tried to kill himself twice, and was stunned years later when his sister read him an article about Berube.

Both men say they were sexually assaulted by the same priest - Father Jean-Claude Etienne, who was pastor at St. Thomas Apotre Parish and St. Thomas Separate School in Warren.

The men and their lawyer said that's why it is so important to go public with their stories. They urge people who may have suffered abuse at the hands of these priests and others - or who may have knowledge about it - to come forward.

Claude alleges he was 10 when Etienne began sexually abusing, assaulting and molesting him for three years. He said he loved the priest.

It is alleged in his lawsuit that clergy, parishioners and others had concerns about Etienne, and some had spoken with former Bishop Alexander Carter about it.

Contant was six and his mother was the organist at St. Rita's Roman Catholic Church in North Bay when he alleges he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Father Magnus J. Fedy.

He claims the priest showed him pornographic material and exposed him to nude adolescents, both at the church and at Scollard Hall, the Catholic boys' high school where Fedy worked.

He claims the abuse occurred at the church at Scollard Hall.

Contant claims to have been sexually assaulted again when he was 17 by Father John Fisher, whom he alleges got him drunk and tried to have anal sex with him after he passed out.

Lanigan alleges he was 15 and an altar boy at Blessed Sacrament Church when he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Father Roy McParland, the only one of the four priests still alive. He alleges the abuse continued for two years.

In 1975, when he was experiencing a personal crisis, Lanigan alleges he sought the advice of McParland, whom he claims took advantage of his "troubled mental state" and sexually abused him again, including oral and anal sex.

Lanigan said he has lost his faith in the Catholic church, "but I have never lost my faith in my higher power," clinging to it in his darkest hours.

"Without that, I don't think I could have gone on."

McParland, 77, retired two years ago, but apparently still says private masses.

Father Angelo Caruso, spokesman for the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, said Friday the Diocese has retained the law firm Lucenti Orlando Ellies of North Bay to respond to the lawsuits.

"I'm very sorry towards the survivors," Caruso told The Star, adding he was also sorry for the diocese, which is being portrayed in a negative light.

The men claim in their lawsuits the diocese had a duty of care to its parishioners because of the "close proximity" of its priests to the lives of parishioners.

The Congregation of the Resurrection in Ontario is also named in Contant's lawsuit.

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