Lawsuits Launched Against Bathurst Diocese

August 7, 2012

By: James Mallory, The Northern Light

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A media conference was held Friday to discuss the launch of 11 lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bathurst and Father Levi Noel. Shown from left are: Rene LeBlanc, a lawyer with Ledroit Beckett; Denis Theriault, plantiff; Robert Talach, a lawyer with Ledroit Beckett; and Lowell Mallais, a plantiff. James Mallory/Northern Light Photo

Eleven lawsuits have been launched against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bathurst on allegations of conspiracy and cover ups involving convicted sexual assault offender Father Levi Noël.

"We are here today to tell you that cover-up was exactly what happened," said lawyer Robert Talach of the Ontario-based law firm Ledroit Beckett, during a media conference on Friday at Lakeview Inn and Suites in Bathurst. "Cover-up and a conspiracy of silence by the local clergy were the crucial factors which allowed Levi Noël to continue to abuse for decades. Had his colleagues and Bishops not covered for his crimes he would have faced justice long before 2010. His list of victims would have been much shorter, the overall damage he did to this community, and this church, much less."

Talach, who is representing the plaintiffs, said 11 notices of action were filed Friday morning with the Court of Queen's Bench in Bathurst against Levi Noel, and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Bathurst carrying on business as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bathurst.

One of the lawsuits also names the Association des Scouts du Canada as a defendant. Father Noël had previously been involved in the Scouts program.

In 2009, Noël pleaded guilty to 22 sex-related charges involving 18 boys stemming as far back as the 1950s.

The incidents involving Noël took place between 1958 and 1981 while he was working at eight different parishes in the Bathurst diocese.

His victims were between eight and 16 years of age at the time.

He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

The lawsuits allege that members of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bathurst knew as early as 1958 about the sexual crimes Noël committed.

Sixty-nine-year-old Denis Joseph Thériault, one of the plaintiffs, said he was sexually abused by Father Noel in 1957 at the age of 13. Thériault alleges he told church officials about the abuse on numerous occasions, but the diocese concealed the information.

"I have bad dreams and all that," said Thériault describing his life today.

Thériault said he was even instructed by a clergy member to, "Place his hand on the bishop's bible and swear to God that he would keep the information secret for the rest of his life".

The Bathurst diocese agreed in 2010 to offer financial settlements and formal apologies to at least 35 sexual assault victims of Noël and others.

Former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache was asked by the diocese to negotiate the settlement.

Talach said the 11 new lawsuits are being launched because those financial settlements and apologies are not enough.

"I've seen the numbers that came out of that process and I would just describe them as disappointing under the circumstances. We've had no real concrete change or accountability from the diocese.

"Today, we announce the commencement of 11 new lawsuits against the Diocese of Bathurst for its complicity in these crimes. This brings the total lawsuit count to 20," said Talach.

"Twenty brave men who have insisted that the Church be held accountable before they rest. Twenty victims who have refused the pieces of silver offered to them through the conciliation process. Victims who want truth, prevention and accountability before compensation. Their silence is not for sale."

Talach said the plaintiffs believe this process through the civil courts will expose the Diocese's full complicity in Levi Noël's actions.

"We cannot prevent this tragedy from happening again in the future, if we do not hold accountable those individuals and institutions which allowed it to happen in the past."

Talach added that Noël is the only individual named as a defendant in the lawsuits because everyone else allegedly involved is deceased.

Talach noted that the 11 new lawsuits don't involve a specific financial compensation figure at this time. Talach said his experience with similar cases have seen financial compensation awarded in the general range of $200,000 to $300,000.

Father Wesley Wade, vicar general for the diocese, told The Northern Light that he is unable to comment specifically about the lawsuits due to the legal process.

"It's all a legal matter so it would be premature for me to comment on that at the present time. We'll leave the procedure as it is and we'll see how things evolve," said Father Wade.

Father Wade did add, however, that the diocese has taken many safeguards in recent years to ensure such horrific crimes do not happen again.

"We've got a very strict protocol in place to assure that all our premises are safe for the children and venerable persons too. That's been done for the diocese and we've been working on that for I would say 10 years. With the Bastarache recommendations and all that we've got a big protocol or guidelines to help the people in that regard to assure security in all of our church premises."

(With files from Adam Huras of the Telegraph Journal.)

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