A man who suffered years of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest in the Ottawa and Gatineau areas is hoping a lawsuit he filed against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Ottawa will not only help him heal, but will compel other victims to come forward.
A third party review conducted by the Ontario Criminal Injuries Compensation Board verified that the man was sexually abused for a seven-year period by Father Jean Gravel, who served with the Archdiocese until 1967. Gravel took his own life in 1980.
Gravel worked at a number of churches in Ottawa and in the Outaouais, including Église de Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours in Montebello and the Saint Remi parish on Dumaurier Avenue.
The victim, who chose to be referred to by the name John said the Archdiocese was very compassionate and helpful when he came forward to them three years ago.
"The leadership at the Roman Catholic Church here in Ottawa have been extremely helpful to me," said John, which is not his real name. "They went beyond the call of duty to show compassion and extend their care to facilitate some form of reconciliation with the trauma sexual abuse can cause."
However, there's only so much information the Archdiocese could divulge and the civil suit will require them to release more information about Father Gravel, so John can piece together more about the man he feared for so long.
"John now takes the final step of having the entire truth known," said lawyer Rob Talach, with Beckett Personal Injury Lawyers. "He has decided to use the instrument of litigation as both an outreach to others and a tool to access information. Though sympathetic, the Archdiocese cannot just hand over Gravel's personnel file. Now they will be required by law to provide it as part of their response to this action."
Talach said getting their hands on the Father Gravel's file may explain how much the Archdiocese knew about his actions.
"I don't have anything that I can put my finger on, but I can tell you in 10 years of doing this type of work, to see a priest defrocked in the past, to have his priesthood end before his life is very unusual," said Talach. "We know that's the case with Father Gravel, so the question that then follows is: what did the Archdiocese, or the Church, know when it defrocked him back in the day?"
John said he hoped coming forward would mean others would be compelled to come forward and start their healing process as well.
"Healing is the key mantra here, because a victim will suffer in silence out of a disbelief they'll be believed, out of a feeling it was their fault until they see their perpetrator's name or another brave soul come forward, and then that becomes the beacon, I'll use the colloquial Bat Light, for them to step forward," said Talach.
The majority of lawsuits like these are settled out of court for a six figure sum, but John said it is not about the money -it's another step in the healing process, that will also hopefully shine the spotlight on the issue of child sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church.
"This is not just about looking back, it is also about prevention for the future," said Talach in a prepared statement. "By examining what went wrong with this case, we can learn how to prevent or at least reduce its reoccurrence within the Roman Catholic Church. "Even just the conversation about abuse, a subject so shrouded in secrecy, can bring enhanced awareness to Rome with its ability to make sweeping changes. Much needed changes which can be made under the supreme authority of the Vatican.
In an email to CFRA, the Archdiocese said it was still considering "which comment, if any" it would make on the issue.