Sault Diocese Knew of Sex Abuse

October 17, 2008

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The Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie knew Father Jean-Claude Etienne of Warren was abusing altar boys as far back as 1970, a lawyer for two sexual abuse victims said Thursday.

Robert Berube, 53, and a second man known as Claude, recently reached a settlement with the diocese for an undisclosed amount. Berube launched a $3.1-million lawsuit three years ago, followed in 2007 by Claude, who sued for $4.5 million, based on alleged abuse they endured 30 years ago.

The "most dramatic of all the information" discovered was a letter from then-Bishop Alexander Carter warning Etienne to stay away from a number of boys at St. Thomas Apotre Parish, said lawyer Rob Talach at a press conference Thursday.

Talach, with Ledroit Beckett Litigation Lawyers, of London, said Carter sent the letter in July 1970, responding to complaints by parents and listing a number of local boys by name.

Berube told reporters Etienne abused him for three-and-a-half years, starting in 1969 when he was 13. His claim listed a dozen particulars of the alleged abuse, including fondling, oral sex, sodomy, striking, punching, throwing and assault.

The claim alleged Etienne "engaged in a pattern of behaviour that was intended to make the plaintiff feel that his soul was in jeopardy."

Claude, who asked his last name not be published because he hasn't told some family members his story, said Etienne also abused him for about three years, beginning when he was 10.

Talach expects more victims to come forward with the publicity of these two cases. He said the diocese should be held even more accountable for crimes committed after 1970, when it was clear leaders knew what was happening.

As Etienne's employer, Talach argues, the diocese was legally responsible for his actions.

Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe, head of the diocese, said an apology has been issued "to the individuals concerned."

But a public apology won't be forthcoming from the diocese, nor will money be contributed to a program to help men suffering post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of abuse by priests.

"A public apology has not been the practice of the church,'' said Plouffe.

Berube and Claude are challenging the diocese to establish a program to help male sexual abuse survivors and to fund it.

A similar program in London, Ont., is heavily funded by the Roman Catholic diocese, said Berube.

Plouffe said his diocese simply doesn't have the money to get involved in such a program at this time.

He said some "worthwhile" pastoral services may have to be "restricted" or "restrained" and other expenses cut to cover the cost of legal settlements.

Talach's law firm specializes in litigation concerning clergy sexual abuse and has been part of several high profile court cases in Cornwall and London.

He currently has six outstanding cases in this diocese, including a Sault Ste. Marie man who claims he was repeatedly assaulted by a city priest in 1965. Jim Lanigan alleges he was 15 when Rev. Roy McParland sexually abused him, including anal and oral sex.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

McParland, 77, is the only one still alive of four area priests Talach's clients are suing. McParland founded St. Gerard Majella Parish before moving on to Our Lady of Good Counsel, where he stayed for two decades until he retired in 2004.

Talach said he is trying to schedule an "examination for discovery," which involves question and answer sessions with all parties involved.

"There are wonderful, holy men who serve in the priesthood," said Talach. "There are also some monsters operating in the cloth."

He said the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie is beginning to deal with these allegations instead of sweeping incidents under the rug, but Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe still needs to be more proactive.

Some larger dioceses, like London, now automatically fund counselling for victims who come to them with credible claims of abuse.

Bishop Plouffe was not available for comment Thursday.

Talach said the Catholic Church has to start looking at clergy sexual abuse as a systemic problem instead of just "a number of rogue, bad priests."

"Why do so many of these characters end up in the priesthood and are allowed to do what they do for so long?"

Article ID# 1251982

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