No Public Apologies For Men

October 17, 2008

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Written apologies have been issued to two men who settled lawsuits with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie for childhood sexual abuse by a diocesan priest almost 40 years ago.

But a public apology won't be forthcoming from the diocese nor will money be contributed to a program to help men suffering post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of abuse by priests.

Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe, head of the diocese, said an apology has been issued "to the individuals concerned" -- Robert Berube and a man known only as Claude -- for sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of Father Jean- Claude Etienne, who died in 1999.

The abuse occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Warren where Etienne served as parish priest.

Berube, who launched his suit three years ago, has been asking for a public apology from Plouffe and the diocese for the abuse he endured as a teenager and the pain he has suffered in the last four decades.

"A public apology has not been the practice of the church," said Plouffe.

Berube and Claude are challenging the diocese to establish a program to help male sexual abuse survivors and to fund it.

A similar program in London is heavily funded by the Roman Catholic diocese, said Berube.

Both men have offered to give money and to seek donations from others, if the diocese starts a program to be run by a social service agency or hospital.

Plouffe said his diocese simply doesn't have the money to get involved in such a program.

"We can't go there," he said.

Details of the amount of the settlement reached between the two men and the diocese have not been revealed.

Plouffe said the agreement contains a confidentiality clause that was mutually agreed upon by both sides.

"I'm not even sure of the amount," Plouffe said in an interview Thursday.

When asked at a news conference Thursday if a gag order had been imposed as part of the settlement, Rob Talach, the lawyer for Berube and Claude, said: "You can ask the diocese."

Plouffe said an aide in the diocese told him both parties agreed nothing was to be gained by releasing details of the settlement.

When asked where the money would come from to pay the settlement, Plouffe replied: "It doesn't come from heaven."

The bishop said 15 per cent of the normal offerings collected at Sunday mass in individual parishes is forwarded to the diocese to fund its operations.

Those operations include pastoral services for the diocese and contributions to the Canadian and Ontario conferences of Catholic bishops.

Plouffe said some "worthwhile" pastoral services may have to be "restricted" or "restrained" and other expenses cut to cover the cost of legal settlements.

In some cases, diocesan insurance and funds from the estates of priests, living or dead, may help pay settlements, along with money from the diocesan operations budget.

Legal settlements do not only include financial remuneration.

Plouffe said some contain agreements to pay for counselling or therapy for victims "to hasten the reconciliation" process.

Ongoing therapy may be offered and paid for by the diocese if it is requested by victims. Plouffe said it is sometimes offered to people who allege they were sexually abused by priests, before those cases get to the legal stage.

Berube and Claude shared details of a lifetime of mental and physical suffering because of the abuse they suffered as children.

Berube, a school principal in London, has been on sick leave for years, suffering from depression and other problems.

Claude told reporters Thursday that he suffered such anxiety when he read about Berube's lawsuit against the diocese related to Etienne, he ended up in hospital for a week suffering from anxiety.

Claude said he was 11 or 12 when he told his mother he was not going back to the church because the priest had grabbed his "bum."

He said Thursday he would have taken the full secret of his abuse to his grave if Berube hadn't come forward with his story about the same priest.

Other men allege they were abused by Etienne, and some were present at Thursday's news conference at the Radisson Hotel.

Talach, who works for the London-based Ledroit Beckett Litigation Lawyers, is working on seven or eight more lawsuits alleging child abuse by diocesan priests dating back decades.

Article ID# 1252141

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