Millions Sought in Ontario Sex Abuse Lawsuits

April 24, 2008

By: Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News

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OTTAWA – A lawyer who represents 11 victims of retired Vatican official Msgr. Bernard Prince believes the Pembroke diocese knew about the priest's sexual abuse of boys between 1964 and 1984.

Robert Talach said he hopes the multi-million dollar lawsuits launched on behalf of 11 of Prince's victims will uncover the "extent of institutional complicity," including the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) and the Vatican.

A spokesman for the Pembroke diocese, however, said there is no evidence anyone knew of Prince's abuse.

"We've done an exhaustive search on all our documentation and we can find no evidence that the diocese was aware of any allegations against Msgr. Prince," said Bruce Pappin in a telephone interview from Pembroke April 8.

On April 7, Robert Talach and several victims held a news conference in Pembroke, Ontario to announce the individual multimillion dollar lawsuits against the Pembroke diocese and Msgr. Prince. Sentenced January 14 to four years in prison, Prince was convicted of one charge of indecent and sexual assault and pleaded guilty to 12 others. Two of his 13 victims have filed lawsuits through another firm.

Talach said one of the victims told his older sister about the abuse and she reported it to a nun at her Catholic high school in 1968. Talach finds it suspicious that Prince's transfer followed the report of abuse. The transfer, he said, fits a pattern of shuffling priests to new assignments that has occurred in other dioceses when priests faced accusations.

The Pembroke diocese issued a formal apology to the victims after Prince's sentencing. "Any case of clergy sexual abuse always brings shame to the Church and tarnishes our mission," the statement on the diocesan website says, adding: "We must do all we can to pastorally care for those who have been hurt. We do apologize to the persons and the families of those found to be victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by Msgr. Prince."

Pappin said the diocese is following its sexual abuse protocol but he would not comment on specific measures involving victims for pastoral reasons.

He pointed out that Msgr. Prince only worked as a parish priest for a total of 18 months. After he was ordained in 1963, he only served three or four months before going to Rome for more studies. He served as an assistant in a couple of parishes in 1968 before leaving to do administrative and academic work, Pappin said.

"Somebody knew," said Talach, who described Pembroke as a small diocese, covering a rather small community. Most of Prince's abuse took place at his cabin in the Wilno area of the Pembroke diocese.

If the Pembroke diocese knew, Robert Talach said he wants to know whether the CCCB also knew about Prince's pattern of sexual involvement with minors before he worked at the CCCB's Ottawa secretariat in the 1980s. Prince also worked at the Apostolic Nunciature and at Canada's Pontifical Mission Society in Toronto before joining the Roman Curia in 1991. He became secretary-general of the Pontifical Work for the Propagation of the Faith before he retired.

"Did the Vatican know?" Talach said. Or did the diocese know and not pass the information on to the CCCB or to Rome?

Canon law expert Father Francis Morrisey, who knew Prince briefly when he taught for part of a semester at Saint Paul University in the early 1980s, told CCN in January that "there was never a hint of anything" while Prince taught at Saint Paul. "If there had been, he wouldn't have been released for the Conference."

Talach's firm has legal standing representing a victim group in the Cornwall Inquiry into sexual abuse in the Alexandria-Cornwall diocese that allegedly includes high ranking clergy, including a retired bishop, and member of the legal and police establishment. LeDroit Beckett has also filed civil lawsuits in that diocese, as well as in the London diocese on behalf of victims of Fr. Charles Sylvestre

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