Shame on You London Diocese for Adding to My Sorrow

September 11, 2009

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For 29 years, Cecilia McLauchlin, heavy with shame, tried to run from the past.

Today, she plans to go for a run, much lighter than ever, and in a different direction.

"I am here to say that for 29 years I have been running away from the abuse and the pain, but (now) I am running toward the rest of my life."

The Blenheim woman spoke publicly for the first time yesterday about the three years of sexual abuse she suffered as a pre-schooler from Rev. Charles Sylvestre, her lifelong pain, and the fight for justice from the Roman Catholic Diocese of London.

"Shame on you London diocese for adding to my sorrows," McLauchlin said at a news conference yesterday at the London law office of Ledroit Beckett.

The diocese dragged on the case for three years, refused one offer to settle, forced her to take "humiliating" medical exams, then settled days before going to trial, McLauchlin said.

"They push you to to the wall, just hoping, and I am sure praying, that you will 'crack' " she said.

"I hope the London diocese will settle with the rest of their victims and let them go on with their lives, or try."

Mark Adkinson, director of communications for the London diocese, responded to those criticisms yesterday by saying church officials are working as quickly on the dozens of lawsuits filed by Sylvestre's victims and others.

"We are doing the best we can," he said in an interview.

McLauchlin's deal is one of about 50 reached between the church and Sylvestre's victims, with more than a dozen outstanding.

"We are sorry for all of the hurt she and others have experienced as a result of the actions of Charles Sylvestre," Adkinson added in a written statement.

McLauchlin, now 32, is the youngest sexual abuse victim of Sylvestre's to come forward and sue the diocese.

The retired Roman Catholic priest died in 2007, three months into a three-year prison sentence for 47 counts of indecent assault on girls from parishes in London, Windsor, Sarnia, Chatham and Pain Court, a small village near Chatham.

McLauchlin grew up in Pain Court but was not part of the criminal proceedings. She launched her lawsuit in 2006, after seeing a newspaper story about Sylvestre.

Sylvestre began abusing her in 1980 or 1981, soon after he began his last parish assignment, at the Immaculate Conception Church in Pain Court, she said.

McLauchlin would not reveal details of the abuse yesterday, but described the physical and emotional pain the abuse brought.

"I really don't know how many three-, four-, five-, six-year-olds can't wear underwear for most of their childhood because they are raw."

According to the lawsuit's statement of claim, Sylvestre fondled her breasts, penetrated her vagina with his fingers, had intercourse with her and made her perform sex acts on him.

All the while Sylvestre abused the girl, he counselled her on religious matters, became close with her family and posed for photographs with her at a dance and at her first communion.

"Father Charlie was this man whom I loved, whom I thought was the end all and be all. To have him pick me up and hold me over everyone else made me feel so special," McLauchlin said.

She never told her devout Catholic parents about the abuse until she was an adult.

"I was ashamed. I thought it was my fault and that continues to be a struggle in my life."

McLauchlin would not reveal the terms of her settlement, but her lawyers had sought $5.325 million in damages for her and $100,000 each for her husband and mother.

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