Sylvestre Victims Decry Pace Of Lawsuit

October 7, 2008

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For years Sarnia's Irene Williams endured the shame and fear of sexual abuse at the hands of disgraced priest Charles Sylvestre.

But her patience is running thin over the slow pace of resolving a civil lawsuit against the Catholic church.

"It's not fast enough," said Williams, who lost her husband John two weeks ago. "It's the Bishop that has the power to say, 'This is enough. Let's move on this'."

Victims of Sylvestre marked the two-year anniversary of the pedophile priest's sentencing Monday with an update in Chatham about their journey through the legal process.

Williams, who was unable to attend, said it's been a long process and it's wearing on survivors.

"The bishop promised fast resolutions and it's been what, now, over two years? Some girls have gone through discovery two or three times. Enough is enough."

Williams was nine years old and volunteering at St. Thomas Aquinas parish in south Sarnia's Bluewater Village when the abuse began. For years, Williams said she dealt with feelings of abandonment and fear.

Sylvestre pleaded guilty in 2006 to molesting 47 girls over three decades while serving at parishes in Sarnia, Chatham, Pain Court and Windsor. The 84-year-old died three months into a three-year prison sentence.

“We are here today to let the public know that we continue to struggle,” said Lou Ann Soontiens, who hosted a news conference in her Chatham home Monday.

“One thing we all really struggle with is understanding why the process of compensation from the Diocese (of London) is taking so long."

Joanne Sullivan was one of approximately 20 survivors who attended the news conference to share her story.

The Blenheim woman was abused while attending George P. Vanier School in Chatham in the early 1970s. She criticized the diocese for delaying the civil proceedings.

Karen Schram, a woman who wasn’t named in the court case, said the delays are re-victimizing survivors.

“It’s almost like they are trying to make us reach our breaking point and just give up,” she said.

Schram said constantly being made to retell the story of her abuse has added to her trauma.

Adding to the delay is the fact that the diocese’s main lawyer, Peter Lauwers, was appointed a judge in the Superior Court of Justice.

London Diocese spokesperson Mark Adkinson said the appointment of Lauwers to the bench scuttled many dates set for last summer and this fall.

However, he said a new schedule is now in place and the diocese is working hard to come to agreements with the survivors.

So far, the diocese has settled with more than 30 of Sylvestre’s victims, Adkinson said, spending

$4.1 million on counselling, legal fees and settlements.

He said the diocese expects it to cost another $4.1 million to deal with the remaining cases.

Rob Talach, a lawyer with London firm Ledroit Beckett, which handles many of the victims’ lawsuits, said regardless of the reasons for the delays, the diocese is failing the women.

“Pastorally, the diocese has not met the needs of these women.”

By Observer Staff with files from Chatham Daily News

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