Founder of Vita Way Farm Named in Abuse Action Against Catholic Diocese

January 30, 2008

By: Almaguin News

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SUDBURY – A former Chisholm-area priest, founder of a group home for troubled teens, has been named posthumously in a litigation against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie relating to sexual abuse of minors by the clergy.

Father John Fisher was one of six priests in the diocese accused of sexual misconduct during a press conference held in Sudbury on Jan. 28 and hosted by the law firm of Ledroit Beckett Litigation Lawyers of London, Ontario. The allegations are part of a civil law suit started against the diocese in 2007. Three people are seeking compensation of $4.5 million each for abuse they received at the hands of three other priests in Northern Ontario.

Allegations were brought against Fisher by a former resident of the Vita Way Farm on Kells Road in Chisholm Township, Kevin Bishop. Although Bishop was unable to attend the Sudbury news conference, lawyer Rob Talach said that in 1986 Bishop was “sexually brutalized with almost every form of sexual abuse,” over a period of nine months while living at the rehabilitation centre. “He was there to be helped,” Talach said, “and instead he was harmed. Though he was to be there for a one-year program, Kevin ran away three months short of completion and no one from the farm or the Ontario government ever asked why.”

Vita Way Farm, with its administrative offices located in North Bay in the Sault Ste. Marie Diocese, provided troubled teens with the opportunity to relocate to the country, away from the peer pressures of their home communities, and was an active small farming operation with a large garden and a variety of small livestock, including cattle, pigs and chickens.

Fisher was first charged in 1989 for other allegations of sexual abuse by another farm resident, “but the outcome of those charges is unknown,” said Talach.

Prior to that sexual misconduct charge, Fisher had received the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship for outstanding contributions to the well being of his community in regard to establishing the rural rehabilitation centre, and following the 1989 charges, “he continued to minister, residing for a time at the Pro-Cathedral in North Bay and ending his career in Temagami,” Talach said.

The farm rehabilitation centre was funded in part by the Ontario government which is also named in the law suit. The farm property was closed as a youth centre in the early 1990s and is now a private family home.

Also named in the civil law suits are Fathers Victor Killoran and Magnus Fedy, who were on staff at Scollard Hall in North Bay at the time of the alleged sexual abuse involving two male students and one local female who regularly played on the school grounds, between 1956 and 1959. Both priests are now deceased.

Other northern parishes affected by the suits include Sudbury, Crystal Falls and Field.

Talach said the purpose of the Jan. 28 news conference was “to reach out to and empower other victims, to seek the assistance of the public in these particular cases and to bring public attention to the issue of childhood sexual abuse.”

Outlining the details of each individual charge, he pointed out the victims are now in their 50s and 60s and argued that despite the time elapsed, the cases were none the less valid. “Sexual abuse by clergy is not just the abuse of the body, but is also abuse of the soul,” Talach said, adding that children feel they cannot tell their parents because “it is more likely that the charming and loved priest will be believed over a silly child.”

Talach said that “it often takes decades for that secret to finally surface and the disclosure can be triggered by a multitude of events. Whatever the spark that causes the brave act of disclosure, the last thing anyone should do is assume that the delay has anything to do with whether their allegation is true or not.”

In February of 2007, the London-based law firm announced a $13.5 million action against the diocese representing three victims of abuse by northern priests. That number has now risen to 10 victims, although Talach is not commenting yet on the total amount of damages now being sought. In over half of the cases named this week, “the priest was charged on the basis of complaints by other victims,” Talach said. “In all of these cases, there are more than one known victim for each priest. The career paths of many of these priests suggests a strong interest in young people, and in others, there’s a strange turn in their career indicative of potential awareness by the Diocese.

“At the end of the day there are many questions left to be answered, but it is not these victims alone who can provide all the answers,” Talach said. “ It is the Diocese, the Bishop and others whose turn it is to shed further light on these cases.”

Talach asks that anyone with further information contact the office of Ledroit Beckett Litigation Lawyer in London at 519-673-4994.

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