Men Relive Stories of Abuse at Hands of Priest

October 21, 2008

By: Laurel Myers, Northern Life

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Two more men have come forward in a series of lawsuits filed against the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie. The pair are seeking justice and healing for the sexual abuse they say they suffered at the hands of their parish priest.

On Thursday morning, Robert Bérubé and Claude (last name withheld), sat at a table with their lawyer, Rob Talach, in a meeting room at the Radisson Hotel in Sudbury. As numerous members of the media listened, the two men retold their stories of sexual abuse as young boys in Warren, at the hands of their parish priest, Father Jean-Claude Etienne, who died in 1999.

"Initially I was on a quest for many things," Bérubé said. "The quest was for justice and healing, it was never a thing for money."

Details of the monetary settlement were not disclosed.

"This is not a competition," Bérubé said. "I don't want to know what others get and I don't want to share what I got."

The 53-year-old man has made it a mission for himself to help other victims of sexual abuse. As part of that mission, he has created a Facebook group, called Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse. He also has monthly meeting and meets individual survivors who need help.

"No child should have had to endure what Claude and I had to. No adult male should be ashamed of the rape of his childhood. No depressed person should desire death because of tainted memories that have their origin in maltreatment by a depraved pedophile," he said, adding that, if by going public, he helps at least one child come forward and denounce the crimes against them, "then I must thank myself.

"Helping others helps yourself, too," he said. "I think I gain more than I give.

Bérubé was around 13 years old when the abuse began. However, telling others of the abuse wasn't something he considered an option.

"Oh, I wouldn't dare. I was damaged goods and I wasn't going to tell my parents. I was supposed to be this perfect little boy. It would have devastated my parents and it would have devastated me to tell them. That's why I kept it a secret for 36 years."

After a major depression and spending six months in bed, Bérubé went to a men's healing group and was urged to sue.

"I started thinking about it, but to sue, I had to tell people," he said, adding the abuse destroyed his life.

"I had two faces. I was Mr. Principal, workaholic, high achiever, then a drunk on weekends. I was angry."

The man, who now lives in London, has two children of his own and said religion was a part of their life because of his wife's strict religious beliefs. However, "the only times I went to church with the girls was to protect them," he added.

As for closure, Bérubé said there isn't any.

"Closure? No, I'll never forget. The reality for me is that I take at least 15 pills every day and that will be a reality for the rest of my life."

However, there is a certain satisfaction.

"(I found) out stuff about my abuser, and (found) out that I'm not alone. I wish I could heal enough to quit taking pills, I hope that one day that will happen."

Claude's story is much the same. His abuse began at 10 when he was an altar boy. He still lives in Warren, though he admitted at times it's hard. He also hasn't been able to work since before the lawsuits came about.

He came forward after reading an article a couple years ago on Bérubé's lawsuit.

"I would have died with the secret," he said. "When I read about Bob, it blew me away. I couldn't handle it any more. It's like a pop bottle when you shake it and it pops, that's how I felt."

After reading the article, Claude said he "went a little crazy, I was mad, I was sad." He ended up spending a week in hospital after an anxiety attack.

"I felt like I was going to die," he said.

The sexual abuse lead the 49-year-old man to a life heavy in drugs and alcohol during his teenage years. He admitted he had made more than one attempt on his life.

"I smashed my car one time — I was hoping to die then. My whole car was smashed except where my head was. I was mad because I didn't succeed.

"I was just fed up with the whole thing, with life," he continued. "It felt like I was a failure. When this happened, he ripped something out of me that I can't find anymore. To me, if I don't find it, I'm wasting my life."

And like Bérubé, coming forward with his secret had two many negative consequences to bear.

"My mom was really religious. I didn't want to hurt her. My dad probably would have knocked on his (Etienne's) door and knocked off his head or something, and it would have turned sour. And if I told my friends, they would always look at me, and would I have any friends anymore?"

Claude stopped going to church. He said "I got mad at Him. When this was happening, I was saying 'where are you?'"

He now has his own children and he has never forced them to go to church.

"I told them it was there for them but I let them have their choice. They chose not to."

As for closure, he said it's hard to say.

"It felt like my insides were still the same. Legally, yes, there's closure, but not mentally."

In January, Talach sat at the same table with seven men and women who had suffered the same indignities at the hands of six different priests. He explained why the allegations had just been brought to light, so long after the incidents took place.

"Many times the victim, taught from an early age that a priest and the church can do no wrong, blames themselves for the abuse. They carry a silent shame and guilt with them. They cannot dare tell their parents for they feel that it is more likely the charming and loved priest will be believed over a silly child. If believed... the news of abuse.... can shake and even shatter an entire family's religious faith.

"It is a combination of these factors which leads a victim to vow they will take their secret to the grave. It takes decades for that secret to finally surface."

He also said the press conferences were to reach out to others who have endured similar pain, "to let them know that light does exist at the end of what may appear to be an endless tunnel."

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