The Diocese of Yarmouth has settled civil lawsuits with six people who, as children, were the victims of sexual abuse by priests in the 1950 and 1960s.
That the diocese has agreed to divide approximately $1.5 million between the six victims means that the diocese accepts responsibility for what happened decades ago, says the law firm representing the victims. Accountability has always been the goal of the lawsuits.
“The fact that the diocese is paying a significant amount of money, what that really means is they accept responsibility and they agree that what the abuse has done is it has caused serious damage in these people’s lives,” says Aaron Lealess of the Ontario law firm Ledriot Beckett.
The overall settlement is not being divided equally between the victims. Each case was treated individually and the compensation amounts differ. And there are legal costs to be subtracted from the amounts.
The victims will still continue to live with the affects of the abuse for the rest of their lives, Lealess says, but they can take comfort in knowing that the church agrees what was done to them was wrong.
Still, not everyone has accepted the settlements offered by the diocese. Some victims may still take the matter the court. Lealess calls it a personal decision.
“Some people want their day in court and want to go to a trial and want to have diocese members examined and cross-examined and have all of the evidence made public. People who want that are entitled to that,” he says. “But then some people would prefer to speak to the bishop, make him understand what happened to them and take the settlement and move on with their lives.”
The settlements involve four victims of sexual abuse committed by Father Adolphe LeBlanc and two victims of sexual abuse committed by Father Eddie Theriault.
Father LeBlanc was ordained in 1924. His parish assignments included Wedgeport and Salmon River, among other parishes. His victims, who were altar boys, say he abused them when they were teenagers or slightly younger. LeBlanc died in January 1971.
Father Theriault was ordained in 1951. Aside from his parish assignments, during his years as a priest he was appointed vice-chancellor and chancellor of the Yarmouth diocese. He died in April 2008.
In 1993 Theriault pleaded guilty to indecent assault involving one of his victims, who was eight years old at the time the abuse started. Her sister was three years old when Theriault began abusing her. Both women are among those to receive settlements from the diocese.
Lealess says six of eight victims who were part of a four-day mediation process earlier this month in Halifax have accepted the settlements. During the mediation process the victims had the chance to describe the abuse or its impact to Archbishop Anthony Mancini, who is the administrator of the Yarmouth diocese.
“The fact that the diocese is paying a significant amount of money, what that really means is they accept responsibility and they agree that what the abuse has done is it has caused serious damage in these people’s lives." - Aaron Lealess of the Ontario law firm Ledriot Beckett
“Some described the abuse while others didn’t. All of them were quite emotional. Some were more sad and distraught, some were solemn and others were angry,” Lealess says. “But they all got a chance to express to the archbishop what happened and how it made them feel and how it impacted them over the course of their life.”
Some victims of the abuse have told the Vanguard about the way the abuse affected them. They felt betrayed by the church. They lost the ability to trust others. They became overly protective of their own children. They experienced shame, anguish, guilt and low self-esteem. They felt let down by those who didn’t come to their protection. Some turned to alcohol to dull their pain.
Many have sought answers as to why the church didn’t remove priests who were suspected or accused of sexual abuse. Instead priests were moved to other parishes where the abuse continued involving other victims.
A woman who answered the phone at the Diocese of Yarmouth office on Thursday said that the diocese has decided not to make a public comment about the settlements until all of the cases of abuse before the diocese have been concluded.
The diocese has been facing allegations of more than 20 cases of sexual abuse by priests.