U.S. Judge Clears Way for Abuse Victims to Sue The Vatican

January 12, 2007

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A lawyer for abuse victims at a public inquiry in Cornwall believes the latest ruling striking down a request for a publication ban on the identity of a priest, who was acquitted of sexual abuse, will help speed up the hearing.

Dallas Lee, who represents a group of sexual abuse victims, said he thinks Tuesday's Ontario Court of Appeal ruling will discourage other time-consuming publication ban requests that have frustrated victims.

"I think at least it is going to give people pause to consider and to take the [Ontario] Court of Appeal's words to heart when deciding whether they have a chance for success," said Lee, who was among several lawyers who argued against a ban on the name of the priest acquitted in 2001.

The inquiry opened in February with testimony from sexual abuse experts. It began hearing evidence in October from victims who alleged they were sexually abused by prominent members of the eastern Ontario community, and from other people affected by the abuse.

Sharpe upheld the ruling of Commissioner Normand Glaude, who is presiding over the inquiry, and that of a divisional court judge, both of whom had ruled the identity of the priest should remain public.

Glaude originally argued the priest's name is relevant and had already been publicized in the media, and openness at the inquiry is needed to help the community heal.

Glaude, however, decided that a ban should remain in place for 10 days to give the Roman Catholic Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall a chance to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada — its last chance to get a publication ban.

Peter Wardle, a lawyer for the Citizens for Community Renewal, a group that wants to promote community healing in Cornwall, said the appeal judge's arguments will also give the commissioner more leeway when dealing with requests for bans.

"So when we look at one of his decisions on a publication ban, we're only going to be looking at whether that decision was reasonable, not whether it was right or wrong," he said.

The inquiry is examining how institutions responded to widespread child sexual abuse complaints in the eastern Ontario community, which were the subject of a 1997 provincial police investigation into an alleged pedophile ring that resulted in 114 charges against 15 men, including a doctor, lawyers and priests.

The investigation, called Project Truth, produced only one sexual abuse conviction.

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