At 65, Greg O’Connor has accomplished a great deal in his lifetime. He earned a degree in biology. He graduated at the top of his class in the former Cambrian School of Nursing. He serves as deputy-mayor of Mattawa in the Township of Calvin.
But O’Connor lowered his head Monday and wept as he recounted the impact the sexual abuse he said he suffered more than 50 years ago by a Roman Catholic priest in North Bay has had on his life.
O’Connor is one of six plaintiffs represented by Ledroit Beckett Litigation Lawyers of London, Ont., who are suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie for $4.5-million each for sexual misconduct they claim to have suffered as children by priests employed by the diocese.
A seventh plaintiff is suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of London for the same amount for abuse he claims he suffered by one of its former priests in Tecumseh.
Some of the plaintiffs are also suing the religious order of the Congregation of the Resurrection, whose priests taught at Scollard Hall in North Bay, where plaintiffs allege some of the abuse was committed.
Lawyer Robert Talach of Ledroit Beckett is representing the seven plaintiffs as well as four others, who earlier filed $4.5-million lawsuits against the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie. Those lawsuits are in the discovery process.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
O’Connor and five other plaintiffs attended a news conference Monday at the Radisson Hotel.
Several family members and friends of the plaintiffs sat in the audience. Some cried as they watched their loved ones address reporters.
The plaintiffs all sat at a table at the front of the Notre Dame Room at the hotel, behind photographs of themselves at the age they were when they said they were abused by their priests.
O’Connor said he was an altar boy as a child, went to church twice on Saturday and three times on Sunday, and "the priest was next to God" in his staunch Roman Catholic family.
He attended a Catholic elementary school and loved it, but when he went to high school, he said his teacher-priest, Father Magnus J. Fedy, took advantage of some of his friends as well.
"I came to hate the priest, I came to hate my religion," said O’Connor, whose first marriage ended badly. His ex-wife and four children from that union do not speak with him today, he said.
O’Connor was joined at the table by three men from Sudbury who allege they were abused by priests as children.
Sudbury businessman Thomas Miller, 59, lived as a boy in North Bay near Scollard Hall.
Although Miller didn’t attend the school, he played on the school grounds and was provided with access to the school gym, the showers and roof by Father Victor Killoran.
Miller alleges he suffered fondling, masturbation, oral sex and anal penetration by the priest for four years, from the time Miller was eight.
Killoran pleaded guilty and was convicted in 1990 in of sexual abuse against a boy and girl in Kitchener-Waterloo.
Two Sudbury men, Raymond Carriere and R.D. Sabourin, were 14 and 15 respectively when they said they were sexually abused by Father Rene Hebert on camping trips.
Their families reported the abuse to church officials at the time, and Carriere said a meeting was held 35 years ago with then Bishop Alexander Carter at Christ the King Church about the charges.
Carriere, 50, said the boys and their parents were led to believe police would be in attendance at the meeting, but they weren’t.
"From that meeting, we waited," he said, but the diocese never acted on their complaints.
Carriere’s mother attended Monday’s news conference and said she asked a bishop in another community what the families should do.
Carriere and his mother both said she was told to "go to church and pray and try to forget this."
Sabourin said when they were told police would be at the meeting, "we felt something would happen.
"There was a lot of support for Hebert at the time, but we were not taken care of at all," he said.
Hebert died Dec. 30 and a memorial mass was said in his honour Saturday at St. Jean de Brebeuf Church. There was a full house at the service and more than a dozen priests participated in his memorial mass.
Anita Contant, 60, of North Bay is another of the plaintiffs. She alleges she was befriended by both Fedy and Killoran, and they abused her for three years from the time she was eight.
Contant says she was subjected to fondling, oral sex and digital penetration.
Wayne Thibert, 51, lives in Crystal Falls near Field, but lived in Tecumseh near Windsor in the early 1970s when he says he was abused by Father Lawrence Paquette.
His family moved north eventually, and Paquette visited him "and was able to commit his final acts of abuse upon Wayne," said Talach.
One plaintiff, Kevin Bishop, did not attend the news conference because he lives a long distance away.
He alleges he was sent to Vita Way Farm in Powassan, south of North Bay, in 1986. There, he says he was sexually "brutalized" by Father John Fisher at the farm Fisher founded as a rehabilitation centre for troubled youth.
Fisher would later win the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship, but was charged in 1989 with sex offences.
A man who wishes to be identified as J.G., now 40, alleges that Father Gerald Roy was his parish priest and school chaplain in Field when he engaged in a two-year period of fondling and mutual masturbation with him.
Roy was sentenced in 2001 to 2 1/2 years in a federal penitentiary for sexual assaults against four altar boys beginning in the early 1980s.