Priest, Diocese Face Charges

January 19, 2010

By: Carol Mulligan, The Sudbury Star

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LAWSUIT: Five separate lawsuits for $3 million each

Five separate lawsuits for $3 million each, the maximum allowed under the law, have been filed in Ontario Superior Court of Justice against a Roman Catholic priest convicted of 11 sexual assault charges in criminal court.

Bernard Cloutier, 68, was sentenced last year to five years in prison for his crimes, but is appealing that decision.

The five lawsuits were also filed against the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie. Two of the lawsuits name the auxiliary bishop at the time, Gerard S.E. Dionne.

The lawsuits contain allegations that have not been proven in a court of law.

Lawyer Rob Talach, of London-based Ledroit Beckett Litigation Lawyers, announced the commencement of legal proceedings by men who served as Cloutier's altar boys from 1971 to 1983 at several parishes in the diocese.

Attention was on Cloutier in the criminal proceedings, Talach told reporters at a news conference at the Radisson Hotel on Monday morning.

The civil suits "are intended to broaden the scope of inquiry."

Talach and his firm represent several other men from the northeast in civil suits against the diocese for alleged, historic cases of sexual abuse by a number of priests who served parishes in Sudbury, North Bay, Espanola and other communities.

In the case of two of the five men in the newest lawsuits, there is essentially a smoking gun in that the diocese covered up the abuse at the time, charged the lawyer.

"This is one of those rare situations where actual evidence of institutional cover-up and interference with secular authorities exists," said Talach.

In criminal court, there was testimony that Dionne, as a representative of the diocese, interrupted and interfered during interviews of two of Cloutier's victims by police.

That interference could be described by some an obstruction of justice, said Talach.

Three of the five plaintiffs in the lawsuits attended the news conference. Two of them wanted their names to be made public, but a publication ban imposed by the judge in the criminal trial last year has not been lifted.

Talach repeated evidence from the criminal trial recounting that J.M., 39, and R.R., 42, were altar boys at St. Mathieu parish in the McFarlane Lake area when they were abused by parish priest Cloutier.

Testimony showed he supplied the boys, and others, with cigarettes, beer and liquor and held sleepovers for them.

J.M. complained to his parents, who called Sudbury Regional Police. When a police sergeant came to their home to interview J.M. and his parents, the visit was interrupted when Dionne and Cloutier showed up at their door. Dionne, evidence showed, took control of the interview.

No charges were laid at the time.

"They've really lost about 17 years of healing," Talach said of his clients, whose abuse was not recognized until criminal charges were laid against Cloutier in 2007, after J.M. came forward again to police.

Jean-Louis Plouffe, current bishop of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, was not head of the diocese then, but as its leader today, he should be addressing -- and redressing -- the suffering of the young victims, said the lawyer.

The sexual abuse they suffered haunts them to this day, the plaintiffs said.

Plouffe said the diocese will retain a lawyer to deal with the lawsuits. He said he just "got wind" of the lawsuits Monday morning and said he did not know a news conference was being held.

"We need legal advice. We'll hand it to our lawyer and we'll see where it goes," said Plouffe, adding the diocese does not know "the people serving."

That is because the plaintiffs "enjoy the anonymity of the court."

J.M. and R.L., 56, of Timmins, wept as they spoke to reporters about how their personal lives have suffered over the years.

J.M. said it was excruciating reliving the ordeal in court for the criminal trial. After the abuse he suffered starting about age 11, he became promiscuous, a father at 17 and was not able to give his children "a proper life."

It angered him that Cloutier was "out roaming around free" for the 27 years he has been struggling as a result of the abuse.

"Now it's time for them to carry a little bit of that burden," J.M. said Monday.

J.M. pointed out Jesus Christ was not believed "time and time again" by many early Christians when he claimed to be performing miracles.

"How many times do you have to come forward" about being sexually abused? asked J.M. "It just doesn't stop."

He and the two other plaintiffs said Monday that the lawsuits are not about money.

Talach said the group had thought of suing the diocese for $1 and declaratory relief, a court order sorting out the rights and legal obligations of the parties in a dispute.

But the men feared the diocese would pay the dollar and "there would be no way to get at the truth," said the lawyer.

"Until there is financial bleeding, Goliath-like dioceses" will not admit such crimes occurred in their parishes, said Talach.

R.L. said he could not talk about the abuse he suffered for years and had not even told his wife the full extent of it until after criminal charges were filed.

But he is speaking out now. "People have to know. The church has to do something," he said.

Despite his experience, J.M. said he continues to believe in God. "I don't believe in people that bring his message. I don't have no faith in any religion."

But, when he meets the "King of Heaven" after he dies, he will know that he was right and the priest who abused him was wrong.

R.R. is encouraging people who may have suffered sexual abuse by Cloutier or another priest to contact the men by e-mail at

"The first step to healing is to tell somebody," said R.L. "That is why we set up this e-mail" account.

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