Dead Priest to be Named in Sexual Abuse Suit

January 25, 2008

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Wayne Thibert was a freckle-faced outcast when his priest befriended him, then spent the next six years sexually abusing him while warning him his soul was in jeopardy if he didn't comply.

Those are among the allegations of a lawsuit Thibert's lawyers have filed against the London diocese. The lawsuit alleges the late Rev. Lawrence Paquette sexually assaulted the boy repeatedly at St. Gregory church and rectory in former St. Clair Beach, in his car and in hotel rooms across Southern Ontario.

"I was an outcast from a lot of things," said Thibert, 51. "I guess he might have seen that. He became my friend."

Thibert's lawsuit is one of six the London law firm Ledroit Beckett will announce Monday during a news conference in Sudbury. The law firm is also launching legal actions against the diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and a religious order called Congregation of Resurrection in Ontario, alleging sexual abuse by five other priests. Those lawsuits allege the abuse of minors in North Bay, the Sudbury area and Field, Ont., at an all-boys high school and a centre for troubled youth, among other places.

Lawyer Rob Talach said three of those priests have been either criminally charged or convicted.

Ledroit Beckett has also represented more than 30 victims of Rev. Charles Sylvestre, who died in jail last year after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting 47 young girls.

London diocese spokesman Mark Adkinson said he couldn't comment on the allegations against Paquette.

"The only thing I can say is these are the first allegations we've ever received about Father Paquette," he said. "We take every allegation very seriously and will do an investigation."

The allegations haven't been proven in court. Talach said that as far as he knows, Paquette was never criminally charged.

Thibert is seeking $4.5 million in damages against the London diocese, claiming it was negligent and failed in its duty to protect him.

He said he's had trouble holding down jobs, has a long history of sleep disorders and has struggled with depression through out his life.

The lawsuit alleges Paquette, who died in 1986, abused Thibert as a priest at St. Gregory parish and chaplin of St.Gregory school.

The abuse included fondling, masturbation, oral sex and digital anal penetration, according to the lawsuit.

During this time, Paquette continued as Thibert's priest, which included hearing his confessions.

"In order to facilitate the abuses Paquette also engaged in a pattern of behaviour which was intended to make the Plaintiff feel that his soul was in jeopardy," the lawsuit alleges.

Thibert said the abuse began in 1966. He was 10.

The first time, in a change room for altar boys at the church, is seared into his memory.

"I just stared out the window of the church," said Thibert. "I didn't know what was happening. I never knew anything about sexuality at that age. He put me up on a cupboard. He laid me up there and started touching me. He proceeded to give me oral sex. I'm only 10. I had no clue."

The abuse lasted six years, until his family moved to Crystal Falls in Northern Ontario. Thibert said Paquette even visited the family once up north and abused him there.

"I didn't want to tell my parents," said Thibert. "They'd never believe me."

At age 13, he ran away to a cousin's house in Chatham. His parents picked him up the next day. As a punishment, they told him he could no longer spend weekends away with his priest. He didn't let on how happy he was.

"That was a good punishment," said Thibert.

The first person he told was his wife, just before they got married several years later. Shortly after that, he told an older brother.

But he kept it a secret from his parents. Thibert's father died in Jan. 2007. Then, in March, he heard his 78-year-old mother and an aunt talking about "how great the priest was."

It was more than he could take.

"It just brought me down," he said. "I decided to do something. It's not right."

With his alleged abuser dead, Thibert said he launched the lawsuit to bring awareness to the problem of sexual abuse and hopefully prevent it from happening to someone else.

"If I can save somebody, I will be happy," he said.

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