Priest, Church Face Lawsuits - Retired Vatican Official Convicted in January of Sexual Assaults

April 6, 2008

By: Andrew Seymour, Ottawa Citizen

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A dozen multimillion-dollar lawsuits have been filed against the Catholic Church and pedophile priest Bernard Prince.

Details of the lawsuits against Msgr. Prince and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pembroke are expected to be revealed Monday when several of the retired priest's 13 victims gather in a Pembroke hotel.

"The purpose of this conference is to allow the victims who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Father Bernard Prince to begin their own personal healing by publicly speaking about the abuse that they have lived with in secrecy for so long," said Rob Talach, a lawyer for the London, Ont., law firm Ledroit Beckett, who is representing 12 men and some of their family members who have filed suit against Msgr. Prince and the Pembroke diocese.

On Jan. 14, Msgr. Prince, 72, was sentenced to four years in prison after being convicted of 13 charges of indecent and sexual assault involving boys between 1964 and 1984.

The boys were between 10 and 16 when the assaults occurred. Msgr. Prince pleaded guilty to 12 of the charges, while he was found guilty of a 13th.

Court heard the assaults usually occurred in bed, where a naked Msgr. Prince would fondle and masturbate the boys.

In several cases, the complainants reported anal intercourse or oral sex, although Msgr. Prince denied those allegations.

"Ultimately, they hope to further the awareness of childhood sexual abuse in an effort to generate something positive from such a negative experience in their lives," said Mr. Talach.

He said his law firm, which has a long history of representing victims of sex abuse by clergy, is representing 11 of the 13 male victims who were abused during trips to Msgr. Prince's Wilno cabin and his Ottawa apartment. The 12th lawsuit involves a man who was not part of the criminal proceedings, but alleges he was sexually abused by the now-retired priest and former Vatican official.

The two other victims from the criminal proceedings have already filed lawsuits against Msgr. Prince and the diocese of Pembroke.

Ledroit Beckett is the provincially appointed and funded representative of the Victims Group in the Cornwall Public Inquiry into the institutional response to allegations of sexual abuse of young persons in that city.

Mr. Talach would not reveal on Sunday the total amount the victims are seeking from the church and Msgr. Prince, although he said the lawsuits were for several million dollars.

"It is a separate lawsuit for each individual," said Mr. Talach, explaining how class-action lawsuits are not the most effective means of obtaining compensation in child sexual abuse cases.

On Sunday night, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pembroke said the suits are not a surprise, "given the outcome of the criminal case."

"We can't speculate on the outcome," said Bruce Pappin, adding that the diocese only received official notification of the lawsuits late last week. "At this point, it is so preliminary."

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