Old Hurts, A New Quest for Justice - Men Sue Church, Say They were Abused by Priest Decades Ago

January 22, 2009

By: Patricia Brooks Arenburg, The Chronicle Herald

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He performed their marriage ceremony and baptized their three daughters in the village church.

But Elizabeth Anne Boudreau didn’t know the dark secret between this man of God and her husband.

"It devastated me. I couldn’t believe it," she said about the day some 20 years ago when her husband confided in her that their priest had sexually abused him as a boy.

Her husband, Raymond H. Boudreau, told her that he was just 11 in 1955 when Rev. Adolphe LeBlanc began to take a special interest in him.

The priest at Saint Michael’s Catholic Church in Wedgeport, who died in the 1970s, took Raymond and other boys for drives in his car and on overnight visits to his camp. For four years, Raymond says, the priest engaged in fondling, masturbation and other unspecified sexual activities with him until the boy found the courage to tell him to stop.

Raymond thought he had put it all behind him until he saw a recent Yarmouth newspaper ad from the Ontario law firm Ledroit Beckett announcing that it was investigating the priest and asking people to telephone. He decided to go public.

"I had made myself a promise more than 50 years back that eventually I would expose this priest for what he did, so that was my chance to get involved," Mr. Boudreau told a Halifax news conference Wednesday.

He and fellow Wedgeport native Kenneth Boudreau (no relation) are suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax and the Diocese of Yarmouth for up to $2 million in damages, based on Father LeBlanc’s alleged actions. They allege the church was negligent and failed to protect its members from the revered priest and is vicariously liable for his actions.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Father LeBlanc was ordained in 1924 in the Archdiocese of Halifax and served in isolated parishes in the Yarmouth area, including Wedgeport and Salmon River, until retiring in 1969. The Diocese of Yarmouth was created in 1953 and encompasses the counties of Yarmouth, Shelburne, Digby, Annapolis and Kings.

At a separate news conference Wednesday at the Catholic Pastoral Centre in Halifax, Archbishop Anthony Mancini read from a statement that he will do his "utmost to ensure that clergy and other pastoral workers are held to the highest standard, and that there is an appropriate response to allegations of past or current abuse."

"Today, I experience very deeply the burden of my office."

Raymond and Kenneth Boudreau’s tales of abuse are similar, but the paths they later took were wildly different.

Kenneth, an altar boy, top student and admittedly vulnerable boy, dropped out of school, moved to Ontario in his teens and became an alcoholic and drug user.

His mother died when he was a toddler and his fisherman father was often away at sea. He couldn’t bring himself to become close to his stepmother, and he said Father LeBlanc saw a "void in him." The priest got him to sweep the floors, took him for drives, had him over to watch television and took him to his camp. Kenneth said Father LeBlanc made him feel special and loved.

The abuse, which lasted about two years, started with fondling and progressed to oral sex and other sexual acts, the lawsuit states.

When Kenneth broke free, he began drinking. By age 16, he was in Ontario on his own. He married and divorced and continued to spiral downward.

It wasn’t until he became a born-again Christian at age 27 that he started to regain control of his life. He got his Grade 12, went on to university, married again (for 34 years) and is now a pastor at a nursing home. He has renewed his relationship with his stepmother and is still in counselling.

"If it wasn’t for the Lord and good counselling and being honest, I don’t think I would’ve made it, really," the 62-year-old said.

In contrast, Raymond Boudreau turned his back on religion and only goes to church for weddings and funerals. He didn’t become an alcoholic and doesn’t touch drugs, he said. He remained in Wedgeport, where he married the girl he started dating at 16 and raised his children.

As a child, he was afraid he’d be sent to reform school if he dared make such accusations about his priest, and even as an adult he never told his parents, especially his father.

"It would have devastated him," Raymond said.

And when he told his wife, it almost broke her heart.

"I was very religious and I went to church a lot," she said, "and I stopped going to church as often after that.

"It hurt me a lot."

She spoke to her own priest, "which helped me a lot . . . but this has renewed things."

They told her aging father just four or five months ago, and he said: "We didn’t know for sure that that happened, but there were rumours in the village that it was happening."

Although the men are seeking big damages in the lawsuit, they both say that’s not the reason they’re speaking out. They believe there may be up to 100 other men out there whom Father LeBlanc may have abused. Before the recent publicity, Kenneth said, he "called several people from my village . . . and in my village alone, I found out that many, many people that were abused don’t want to come forth for shame or other reasons."

The men are asking potential victims who were boys in churches from Yarmouth to Halifax to Amherst between 1926 and 1969 to come forward. An unidentified man, also a client of the Ledroit Beckett law firm, was allegedly abused as an altar boy in Salmon River, lawyer Paul Ledroit told the news conference. And two more men have called in since a story about the priest’s alleged abuses appeared in The Chronicle Herald on Tuesday, Kenneth Boudreau said.

"I know how hard it is to live with guilt and shame, and a lot of people that don’t get help wind up on drugs, alcohol, even commit suicide, and (I) want to see them get help," Kenneth said.

What happened to Raymond as a boy was not his fault, his wife said, and she hopes this will finally help him close that dark chapter in his life.

"It didn’t ruin his life, but I think it was behind a closed door somewhere . . . and hopefully this is a closure that — that’s it. It’s finished, everybody knows, (Father LeBlanc is) exposed for what he was, and that’s it."

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