LONDON, Ont. — The youngest victim of pedophile priest Rev. Charles Sylvestre has reached a settlement with the Catholic church.
But Cecilia Annette McLauchlin says doing so was a difficult and painful process, and the London diocese should be ashamed for drawing it out.
"They simply are playing the game of 'survivor.' They push you to the wall, just hoping — and I am sure praying — that you will crack," she said at a press conference in London on Friday.
Now a 32-year-old Chatham resident, McLauchlin said the abuse began in 1980 when she was three years old, and continued until her family moved away from Sylvestre's parish in 1983.
McLauchlin's lawyer, Rob Talach of the law firm Ledroit Beckett, said Sylvestre carried out "perverse sexual acts" with McLauchlin during those pre-school years.
Talach said Sylvester's abuse led to McLauchlin requiring a gynecological examination at the age of five. A doctor's letter penned in connection with the examination stated that McLauchlin suffered recurrent inflammation of her vulva.
McLauchlin said the abuse has affected her well into adulthood.
"I have been so scared, ashamed and confused for so many years and it is still not over," she said.
Asked if she or any other member of her family is still a member of the Catholic church, McLauchlin replied: "Absolutely not."
McLauchlin said that in the course of her lawsuit, the London diocese required her to undergo a psychiatric examination in the fall of last year, conducted by a medical examiner hired by the diocese.
"Most of those questions were into the acts of sexual abuse. He wanted more description," she said. "For 20 minutes, I literally had to describe private areas of Father Charlie (Sylvestre)."
McLauchlin said she believes the diocese set up the examination to wear her down.
"They tried to crack me, but they didn't," she said.
Talach noted that the London diocese did not agree to settle until the last working day before the trial was scheduled to begin.
McLauchlin filed her lawsuit in the fall of 2006.
"Why that had to be dragged out like that... is her question," Talach said. "Three years of litigation and then folding on the eve of the courthouse is very expensive for the parties, and very difficult for the victims."
Talach would not give details about the sum of the settlement, stating that it was the request of his client that there would be no comment about the amount.
"Cecilia wants the focus to be on the facts and not the figures," Talach said.
Talach said Friday's press conference was the first time McLauchlin had made her story public.
Also present at the press conference were McLauchlin's parents, Sylvia and Charles McDonell, who frequently grew tearful during the proceedings.
At least 47 females came forward in the trial that led to Sylvestre's 2006 conviction on sexual assault charges.
The Ledroit Beckett law firm estimates Sylvestre's total number of victims to be more than 80.
Sylvestre died in prison in January 2007.
Asked where she goes from here, McLauchlin — who is married — said she will always be scarred by the abuse, but her healing has begun.
"I knew, today, after this press conference, I would feel better," McLauchlin said. "I am courageous, and I'm proud that I'm sitting here today sharing my story."
"I hope no one ever has to go through this. And for that matter, I hope that the London diocese will settle with the rest of the victims and let them go on with their lives — or at least try."