Lawyers Seek Redress from Catholic Church for Alleged Sex Abuse Victims

June 6, 2006

By: Andrew Seymour, Ottawa Citizen, CanWest News Service

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OTTAWA - A law firm announced plans Monday to seek compensation from the Catholic church for the victims of alleged sexual abuse by a Pembroke, Ont.-area priest and former Vatican official.

Lawyers for the London, Ont., law firm Ledroit Beckett said they have approached the Pembroke diocese of the Roman Catholic church with a potential compensation plan for the alleged victims of Msgr. Bernard Prince, 71, who faces 31 charges including buggery and indecent assault after being accused of sexually assaulting 12 males in the 1960s and 1970s.

''At this point we are talking about building a machine to resolve (the sexual assault allegations),'' lawyer Rob Talach said.

The law firm is seeking an agreement that would offer immediate counselling to the alleged victims at the church's expense, as well as lay the groundwork for financial compensation once the criminal proceedings against Prince are completed, he added.

''That machine can sit and wait until the criminal process is done. The civil litigation route is just very difficult and very long-winded for the individual victim,'' said Talach, adding Ledroit Beckett had been in contact with several of the alleged victims.

Estimating that the settlement for each of the alleged victims could cost the church millions of dollars, Talach said a settlement like the one they are proposing would avoid lengthy and potentially costly civil litigation following the criminal proceedings.

Father Peter Proulx with the Pembroke diocese said he only learned of the proposed settlement Monday following a press conference held by the law firm.

''We'll have to seek counsel on it,'' said Proulx, adding the church will review the proposal carefully before making any decision or further comment.

''I find the proposal creative and I want to put some thought into it.''

But Prince's lawyer, Chris Kelly, said any talk of a settlement now is ''presumptuous'' considering the case has yet to go to trial.

''It sounds to me like they are jumping the queue,'' Kelly said. ''It certainly sounds premature procedurally.''

Talach who was joined by Peter Gahlinger, a sex-abuse survivor and president of the Ottawa-based sexual assault support group the Men's Project said the firm wanted to take a pro-active approach to dealing with the allegations and getting help for the alleged victims.

''The victims' focus across the board is on the criminal proceedings. This isn't a money grab,'' he said. ''We're searching on behalf of the victims for something different.''

Ledroit Beckett also represents the victims' group at the public inquiry in Cornwall, Ont., that is examining the institutional response to allegations of sexual abuse involving the church in that city.

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