Priest Abuse Victim Wanted to be Heard

April 21, 2011

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A Southwestern Ontario woman awarded $610,000 in a civil judgement for abuse by a pedophile priest said her case was about “getting my voice heard and the voices of the victims.”

Kelly Murphy-Myers, 41, of Chatham one of Rev. Charles Sylvestre’s dozens of victims over four decades, won’t be appealing Superior Court Justice David Little’s decision in her civil suit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of London.

Her award is the highest financial court judgment for a Canadian woman abused by clergy.

“It wasn’t really about the money. It was about getting them to see, getting my voice heard and the voices of the victims,” she said at a news conference in London Thursday.

“For every victim who came forward, there are 10 others that are too scared to stay anything. My voice is just for the 10 others who can’t speak.”

Sylvestre was convicted in 2006 of 47 charges of indecent assault for abusing little girls in his parishes in Windsor, Sarnia, London, Chatham and Pain Court. He died in prison three months into his three-year sentence.

Murphy-Myers wasn’t part of the criminal prosecution, but came forward with her civil claim later. She’d been a pupil at St. Ursula’s school and a parishioner in Chatham when Sylvestre abused her.

Her lawyer, Robert Talach, said Little’s decision was “very positive” even though Little opted not to assess punitive — or punishing — damages on the diocese, saying the church has changed and has been punished enough for Sylvestre’s abuse.

“We think it’s very significant, especially for an institution like the church that says we are a moral authority, to be told by a judge by our court, you were negligent, you engaged in a cover-up, you knew about this guy and did nothing, and you did all this because you were putting yourself ahead of children and parishioners,” he said.

Murphy-Myers’ case was the first of 77 civil cases against the church because of Sylvestre to go to trial.

She said the two sides had reached the mediation stage before the trial, but couldn’t’ settle it.

“I’m as surprised as you are that it went to trial,” she said.

“This decision is far in excess of what we sought to avoid trial,” Talach added.

He said Little was clear he didn’t impose punitive damages because the church has “changed the way you do business.”

But he said, it’s clear the church has been more reactive, than proactive when dealing with issues of sexual abuse.

He produced a list of 22 priests in the Diocese of London who’ve been convicted, charged or sued since 1974 for sexual abuse.

Talach speculated a jury hearing a Sylvestre case might view the punitive damages in a different light. Another case is scheduled next month.

Murphy-Myers said despite the successful end of the case, she still felt “sad.”

“It’s unfortunate it got to this point, sad that it even happened to begin with, sad that it had to go to trial.”

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