A Catholic order has reached a settlement with a second alleged victim of a former Calgary priest and teacher at Bishop Grandin high school in a decades-old sexual abuse case.
The two male accusers are now calling for the renaming of a charitable foundation and a local chapter of the Knights of Columbus that bear the late priest’s name.
Two civil settlements have been reached with the Basilian Fathers of Toronto over allegations that Father Fred Cahill, who died in 1983, repeatedly sexually abused boys that he counselled and taught at Bishop Grandin or supervised as chaplain at Camp Columbus near Waterton.
The second alleged victim, Martin Ralph, now 57, says Cahill preyed upon him and repeatedly sexually abused and assaulted him when he was about 15 years old and a student in the priest’s English class in the late 1970s. He hopes the church won’t continue to pay tribute to a man responsible for so much suffering.
“He was an evil man and he didn’t deserve the accolades,” Ralph says. “It’s as simple as that. He ruined so many people’s lives, that’s why this is so important.”
The Alberta Knights of Columbus say they have been working for months on a name change for the Father Fred Cahill Council No. 8471 at Holy Spirit Parish. Members of the council were notified on Aug. 20 that a name change had officially been approved by the organization’s governing body.
Changing the name of the registered bursary will be more complex, the group says, but efforts are underway.
“We were recommended by the Diocese (of Calgary) that there were substantiated claims against Father Cahill,” says Jim Fergusson, financial secretary for the council. “They didn’t tell us what they were, but they told us that they were substantiated and recommended that we change the name.”
Postmedia first reported in 2017 that Cahill had been named in a $3-million lawsuit from a former altar boy who said Cahill abused him for several months in 1981. The Basilian Fathers settled the case in October 2018 for an undisclosed amount.
Ralph’s case, seeking a similar amount in damages, was settled with the religious order in May. Ralph says the chance to hear an apology from a senior ranking member of the religious order that ordained Cahill was what drove him: “It was never about the money to me. I just wanted someone to stand up and apologize.”
Ralph recalls excelling in English classes in the late 1970s at Bishop Grandin School, where he met Cahill when he was about 15 years old. He immediately found a sympathetic ear in his teacher: “I thought, this is a good man. He actually cares about us,” he says. “That’s how he got the trust.”
At the time, Ralph thought he might want to become a priest one day. Cahill encouraged that ambition.
But Ralph says Cahill was manipulative and would create situations to trap him alone. His initial thrill at being invited for a flight in the veteran pilot’s single-engine plane was ruined when he felt the priest reach into his lap.
“He put us in situations that we couldn’t get out of. You’re not going to jump from the plane because the priest has his hands down your pants,” Ralph says.
Cahill also served as chaplain of the summer camp where Ralph worked as a counsellor. Ralph says he can still recall with perfect clarity the layout of the bunks and where the kitchen and showers were located. On nights that he had a break from taking care of his campers, Ralph said he would be invited to Cahill’s private room.
“I remember thinking that I was the only one. That I was somehow special,” Ralph says. “It was like he was insatiable. That’s what I remember, being there. You felt special because it was a priest and he loved you but he also had this horrible appetite for ugly things.”
Cahill died unexpectedly of natural causes in 1983 and Ralph attended the funeral mass, but never told anyone what had happened to him. It would take nearly 35 years and hearing the account ofanother alleged victim to prompt him to come forward to his own family.
“In the deepest, darkest part of my soul I knew that this had to be wrong — I wish I had listened to that,” says Ralph.
Ralph’s lawyer, London-based advocate Rob Talach who has represented abuse victims across the country for more than 15 years, says he first wrote to the Alberta Knights of Columbus in July to inform them of the allegations and the desire of the victims to see the council and bursary renamed.
“They were very appreciative of us letting them know this because, again, this is all kept very hush-hush in the church world,” Talach says. “It’s not like the Basilian (Order) wrote and said, ‘you should know . . .’ — this was the first they heard of it and they were quite pleased that we had notified them.”
Some Calgary parishioners have struggled with the allegations against Cahill. Fergusson says that while it was the right decision to strip Cahill’s name from the council and bursary, he acknowledges some people who knew the priest were upset by the news.
“I’m personally relieved,” says Fergusson. “But then, there were also members of the council who saw a different side of Father Cahill and they were actually quite upset about the name change. I’ve seen both sides.”
Talach says he believes the church’s requirement that priests lead a celibate life is part of the problem in many abuse cases; he says that once he began looking into Cahill, he received a phone call from someone who knew the priest and described him as practically “reeking” of loneliness — “like it was almost like an odour on him, how lonely he was.”
“That has to be part of this conversation. We can’t talk church and sexual abuse cases and just hang it all on the individual perpetrators,” Talach says. “There’s just too much of it. There must be an institutional component. And part of that institutional component is you ask these guys to live these fantasy, lonely lives forever and there are consequences.”
Ralph says he now believes that there were others like him who were abused by Cahill at the same time, including young men interested in the priesthood who lived with Cahill in a house in north Calgary. He now hopes that other men will also find the courage to come forward.
“That’s the benefit that I’d like to see coming from (my) story,” says Ralph. “You have a voice and you should trust that thing, that deepest part of your soul — trust that.”
Published on September 3, 2019