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January 19, 2010

Five Ex-Altar Boys Suing Catholic Church Over Abuse

by Kirk Makin, The Globe and Mail

Plaintiffs allege bishop enabled priest to sexually assault them

JUSTICE REPORTER

A culture of secrecy and willful blindness within the Roman Catholic church allowed a Sudbury, Ont., priest to worm his way into affections of five altar boys and sexually assault them, a flurry of lawsuits alleges.

The five plaintiffs claim that, with the church and a regional bishop playing the role of enablers, Rev. Bernard Cloutier travelled from one diocese to another robbing young boys of both their innocence and their belief in God.

In the suits filed yesterday, the plaintiffs are claiming a total of $15-million, citing lifelong descents into depression, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts.The plaintiffs are suing Father Cloutier, his superior, Bishop Gerard Dionne and the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie.

Rather than recognizing the risks associated with celibacy and carefully monitoring its priests, the plaintiffs state that the church gave Father Cloutier the essential tools he needed - unbridled authority, access to youngsters and isolated locations where he could prey upon them.

"It consciously and deliberately suppressed information concerning his sexual misconduct in an effort to protect the reputation of the diocese over the safety of children," lawyer Rob Talach asserted on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Ordained in 1971, Father Cloutier, 68, influenced some of the boys to engage in sexual activity together at parties he organized.

Last month, he was sentenced to five years behind bars for four counts of indecent assault and gross indecency, as well as two counts of sexual assault.

Mr. Justice Paul Kane of the Ontario Superior Court also condemned Father Cloutier's superior, Bishop Dionne, for trying to forestall criminal charges against the priest 25 years ago.

The lawsuits launched yesterday allege that the two men conspired to obstruct the police investigation, and that Bishop Dionne shirked his responsibility to warn child welfare authorities of what his priest was doing.

They allege that Father Cloutier taught his altar boys to treat him as a special being who represented God on earth and was owed a duty of absolute loyalty.

"In order to facilitate the abuses, Cloutier engaged in a pattern of behaviour which was intended to make the plaintiff feel that he was special in the eyes of Cloutier, the Church and God," the plaintiffs allege.

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