Beckett Personal Injury Office In Downtown London

September 19, 2007

Sylvestre Victim Gets $415,000 Settlement

by Sonja Puzic, Windsor Star; with files from The Chatham Daily News

A victim of pedophile priest Charles Sylvestre has reached a $415,000 settlement with the Roman Catholic Church's London diocese without having to go through the "horrible" examination for discovery process and reliving the abuse under questioning from defendants.

The diocese has also agreed to pay indefinitely the 44-year-old woman's psychological counselling, which she says helped her escape drug abuse, suicide attempts and depression.

The victim, who lives in Kingston and does not want to be identified, was abused by Sylvestre at St. Ursula's parish in Chatham from 1972 to 1975 when she was between 10 and 13 years old.

She did not take part in last year's criminal proceedings against Sylvestre, but decided to pursue a lawsuit against the diocese after she learned of the priest's arrest through the media.

Sylvestre pleaded guilty to sexually abusing 47 young girls over four decades in parishes across southern Ontario, including Windsor. He was sentenced to a three-year prison term, but died months later in January at age 84.

"This will forever change my life," the victim said in an interview Tuesday night.

"I didn't go in this for the money," she said. "But my family missed out on a lot because of (Sylvestre) and we deserve another chance."

She said she wanted to speak publicly about the settlement in hopes of encouraging other victims to come forward.

"I know there are other women out there and I want them to know that they should see a lawyer or a doctor and not keep the abuse inside."

Rob Talach of Ledroit Beckett, the London law firm representing the victim and currently handling more than 20 other lawsuits against the diocese, said the settlement amount was "significant."

Talach said Ledroit Beckett has settled 10 lawsuits for Sylvestre's victims and none of them have had to endure examination for discovery.

Other women who went through the examination for Sylvestre's criminal trial may have to do it again for the civil process, depending on the insurer's requests. Defendants have the right to ask questions about the abuse and request psychological and medical testing.

The victim, who suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, said she's grateful she was spared the questioning.

"It's a horrible thing to have to go through," she said. "I was lucky that the people the diocese sent were very caring and compassionate and my lawyer did everything to make it as easy for me as possible."

Larry Brennan, episcopal director of administrative services for the London diocese, said the process has been arduous for the diocese and the victims.

However, he said it was crucial to deal with each file individually.

"We certainly want to settle all claims with our victims," he said. "Each case has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis."

The victim said Sylvestre's abuse destroyed her life and robbed her of a proper education, a family and a successful career. Plagued by memories and nightmares, she struggled in school and started abusing drugs at an early age.

She said her mother did not believe her when she told her that Sylvestre was molesting her and other girls.

"Back then priests were like God," she said, recalling that it took her a while to realize that Sylvestre's actions were "very wrong."

He often abused girls "in groups," she said, and even touched her breast during her confirmation ceremony in Grade 8, unbeknownst to her mother, who was taking pictures.

While her siblings completed their university degrees and moved on with their careers, the victim struggled to keep jobs and stay sober. She even spent six months in prison on drug charges.

She is now married and has been clean for seven years. She said she will use the settlement money to return to school and complete a degree in social work.

"I may see him in my nightmares, but that's the only place where he stays now."

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