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January 26, 2008

Priests Accused of Abuse in City; Six Clergy Named in Lawsuit; One Still Living

by Carol Mulligan, The Sudbury Star

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie has been hit with six more civil lawsuits from men and women claiming they were sexually abused as children by priests with the diocese.

Ledroit Beckett Litigation Lawyers of London, Ont., will hold a news conference Monday to announce it is suing the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, the Roman Catholic Diocese of London and the Congregation of the Resurrection in Ontario on behalf of seven plaintiffs.

The litigation names six Roman Catholic priests, only one of whom is alive. He is Father Gerald Roy of Field. Half of the priests named have been charged or convicted of criminal offences. Roy is one of them.

One of the priests named served in several parishes in Sudbury and died Dec. 30 at age 76. A memorial mass will be held tomorrow (Saturday) for Father Rene Hebert.

Hebert served at St. Jean de Brebeuf, l'Annonciation and St. Mathieu Roman Catholic churches. He was heralded as an advocate of francophones, youth and the poor.

The seven lawsuits allege the priests sexually abused minors aged seven to 15 years. The plaintiffs now range in age from their 40s to their 60s. The allegations of sexual misconduct occurred in Sudbury, North Bay, Field, Crystal Falls, Powassan and Tecumseh.

The plaintiffs are being represented by Rob Talach of Ledroit Beckett, which had four clients with multi-million-dollar lawsuits against the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie. The firm now represents 10 plaintiffs suing the Sault Ste. Marie Diocese and one suing London.

Talach would not comment on the amount of damages being sought.

Three lawsuits, each for $4.5 million, were served against the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie in February 2007.

Those cases, and an earlier one filed against Roy by Robert Berube, are in discovery in the legal process.

The Star could not reach a spokesperson for Sault Ste. Marie Diocese on Thursday evening. Talach said he hoped the diocese would see the lawsuits "as an opportunity and avoid the natural tendency to want to be defensive ...

"We don't want to foreclose the possibility of them being innovative and forward-thinking on these things," he said.

After the three lawsuits were made public last year, Talach urged the diocese to care for the victims.

The plaintiffs are expected to attend the news conference Monday at 10:30 a.m. at the Radisson Hotel.

Talach said the purpose of the news conference is threefold - to reach out to and empower other victims, to seek assistance from the public in these cases and to bring attention to the issue of childhood sexual abuse.

"These people are coming to the public and saying, 'Help me, help me with my case,' " said Talach in a telephone interview from London." 'Help me change the way things are done now and help me expose this problem and some solutions.' "

Talach said the lawsuits are not about money.

Every plaintiff he represents has the same answer when he asks them: "What do you want from this?"

" 'For this to never happen to another child,'" they say.

Much of the alleged abuse occurred at Scollard Hall, a former all-boys' Catholic secondary school in North Bay. It is now a co-educational high school.

One of the priests named is Father Magnus J. Fedy, a longtime principal at Scollard Hall.

Another is Father Victor Killoran, whom Talach said worked at Scollard Hall for years and was convicted of sexual misconduct in the 1990s.

Father John Fisher, who once served at the Pro-Cathedral of the Assumption and at Turtle Island First Nation near Temagami, is also named.

Fisher ran a facility for troubled youth called Vita-Way Farms in Powassan, south of North Bay.

"He was like a fox in the hen house," said Talach.

The Government of Ontario is also being sued in the case because it provided funding for youths who ran afoul of the law and were sent to Vita-Way.

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