Priest Abuse Lawsuits Pouring in; Victims Say it's not Money They're After, They Want to Protect Future Generations

August 5, 2005

By: Trevor Wilhelm, Windsor Star

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Lawsuits seeking millions of dollars are pouring in after retired Catholic priest Charles Sylvestre pleaded guilty Thursday to sexually abusing 47 girls, but the victims say the money doesn't matter.

Lou Ann Soontiens, who had her named removed from a publication ban so she could speak out, said the money won't bring happiness and it won't bring closure. But it will make her feel she's protecting other little girls.

"There is no closure, I have lived with it for 40 years," said Soontiens, who said she was abused for seven years as a child growing up in Chatham. It started when she was just eight.

"Compensation in no way could heal what I've been through. Maybe it will hurt their pocketbook and they'll listen to the next girl that is abused. I'm hoping I'm saving a little girl. I just want it to stop. It needs to get out. If no one says anything, it will go on. The church knew what he was doing. If they would have listened to the first girl that complained, this wouldn't have happened to me."

Sylvestre, 83, pleaded guilty to abusing the 47 girls, some as young as seven, over a 36-year span.

Following the guilty pleas, the London-based firm Legate and Associates filed 21 lawsuits seeking a total of more than $101 million in damages.

Those lawsuits name Sylvestre, as well as the Diocese of London, the St. Clair Catholic District School Board, the Order of the Grey Nuns, Sarnia police, the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, Le Conseil Scolaire de District des Ecoles Catholiques du Sud-Ouest and others.

Another London law firm, Ledroit Beckett, which represents Soontiens, actually started the slew of civil actions in January with a $3.1-million suit naming Sylvestre, the diocese and Bishop Ronald Fabbro as defendants.

"In criminal court you can only charge the perpetrator," said Aaron Lealess, a law student at the firm. "But the victims feel they were let down by the diocese and the church. A lot of times they tell people the abuse is going on and nothing gets done. It's a way of making the diocese step up and take responsibility."

Ron Pickersgill, communications director for the diocese, said the diocese won't respond to the new lawsuits because it hasn't actually received them yet. Joe Berthiaume, education director for the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board also said he hasn't received notice and couldn’t comment.


Windsor - Cameron J. MacLean, a Roman Catholic priest, pleaded guilty in 2002 to nine charges of sexual assault for abusing eight boys, three in Windsor, in the 1970s and 1980s.

London, Ont. - Essex truck driver Bob Burleigh received an out-of-court settlement of nearly $500,000 from the London diocese in 2004 for sexual abuse inflicted by Rev. Barry Glendinning in the early 1970s.

London, Ont. - John, Ed and Guy Swales and their family won more than $1.39 million in a civil suit against the London diocese and Glendinning in 2003. The brothers were also abused by Glendinning.

Cornwall, Ont. - In the 1990s, police laid 114 charges against 15 high-profile men after years of rumours about an underground clan of pedophiles. But only one man was convicted who had no connection to the alleged sex ring. A number of civil lawsuits have been filed.

St. John's, N.L. - In March 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Roman Catholic diocese in Newfoundland was liable for $13 million for abuse inflicted by Kevin Bennett, a former priest of the diocese.

Ottawa - John Gallienne, an assistant organist and choir director at an Anglican church in Ottawa, pleaded guilty in 1990 to sexually abusing 13 boys.

Sudbury - Former priest Don Holmes is found guilty in 2002 of 14 counts of indecent assault involving 12 young girls in the 1970s and 1980s at Sturgeon Falls and Sudbury, and later, two additional charges for sexually assaulting a nine-year-old and a seven-year-old girl in Sault Ste. Marie at a community swimming pool.

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