Victims abused by priests in N.B. waiting years for compensation

December 4, 2018

By: Gabrielle Fahmy - CBC

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Victims of abuse by Catholic priests in New Brunswick have been waiting almost three years for compensation after reaching out-of-court settlements, and there is no sign the money will arrive anytime soon.

CBC News has learned as many as 29 sexual abuse victims have reached tentative settlements in their civil lawsuits against the archdiocese of Moncton, N.B.

These are men who did not participate in the conciliation process led by the archdiocese between 2012 and 2014, but rather chose to sue the church on their own.

But the Moncton archdiocese said it handed over $10.6 million to compensate 109 sexual abuse victims who came forward during the conciliation process. It has been locked in a legal battle with its insurance company over who should compensate victims of sexual abuse for years.

Many of these tentative settlements at issue were reached after closed-door meetings in early 2016.

"They said they were going to try getting our money as soon as possible within a year," said a 54-year-old Moncton man. Because he is a victim of sexual abuse, CBC News has agreed not to reveal his identity.

t the end of an hours-long meeting, the man agreed to compensation from the church totalling $210,000.

"They were downstairs, and me and my lawyer were upstairs. And the mediator was going back and forth. They would make an offer, we would counter-offer."

"That mediator must have gone up and down the stairs at least 15, 20 times."

He said he remembered the church's first offer being somewhere around $50,000.

Though the amount the man settled on was less than he thought he should get, he agreed on it on the basis he would receive it within a few months.

He said the wait has only compounded his pain.

"That's the worst part about it. Having that on my mind all the time," he said.

The man, an alleged victim of former Cap-Pelé priest Camille Leger, said the abuse started when he was 10 years old.

He said one of his interactions with Leger, who he described as a bully, left him with a ruptured eardrum.

"I tried to push him away, and that's when he slapped me. It was a flat hand on the ear. My eardrum has been busted since. I have had three operations, but I still can't hear."

Leger was the priest in the Sainte-Thérèse-d'Avila Parish in Cap-Pelé between 1957 and 1980. He died in 1990 without ever being accused or convicted of any crimes. His accusers all came forward after his death.

In 2012, after a motion from a Cap-Pelé councillor — also one of his alleged victims — Leger's name was removed from the village arena. Several lawsuits were filed in the following months.

Another alleged Leger victim, a 65-year-old man from Grand Barachois, N.B., reached a $200,000 settlement with the church in mid-2015 after a similar meeting.

But when the money hadn't arrived one year later, he used an escape clause in the agreement to go back to litigation.

The church hasn't met with him since.

"They keep dragging their feet," the man said."They don't want to do any meetings with us. They don't want to talk to us."

"Everybody's not young. I'm getting up there. I could go tomorrow. A lot of people go my age. I don't know what their game is," he said.

"They keep postponing until we die, I guess."

The man, a former choir member and boy scout, said he was abused between the ages of 11 and 14.

He said the wait has left him feeling helpless.

"It's like being punished again. It's like being teased, it's like playing with your mind, that you'll never be able to do anything about it."

The situation has also been frustrating for London lawyer Robert Talach, who handled 13 of these settled lawsuits, in addition to 10 that are still unresolved.

"A lot of these people took lesser amounts on these agreements on the basis they would have money within a handful of months," said Talach.

"Now you have a situation where people took a smaller amount than they're entitled to, on the basis it would be paid shortly. And it still isn't paid almost three years later."

He said the church gave $1,000 advances to victims it reached a settlement with, but has given no indication of when the rest of the money would come.

"In their eyes this is just a nuisance from the past, this is just a bill to be paid. And I truly believe that's how they look at it."

The archbishop of Moncton, Valéry Vienneau, declined an interview with CBC News, saying the cases were before the courts.

He said he would like the situation resolved as soon as possible but that it's out of the church's hands. He said the archdiocese gave all the money it had, and will not pay these victims before the legal battle with the insurance company comes to an end.

The archdiocese has been fighting a legal battle worth $4.2 million with its insurers since 2015.

The church argued the insurance policy at the time of the abuse included coverage for "bodily injury caused intentionally by ... the archdiocese."

But the insurers claimed the church failed in its obligation to tell the insurance company of the abuse when it became aware of it.

Last month, New Brunswick's Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Diocese of Bathurst in a similar case against its insurers, but only after the insurers dropped their appeal of the initial court ruling. That case was worth $3.4 million.

The insurers still have a few weeks to decide if they will take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Little has happened in the Moncton case since it was filed in 2015, and Vienneau did not know how much longer it would take to resolve.

He said he is unsure what the Moncton church will do in the event it loses its case against the insurers.

But victims say they'll keep fighting.

"This archdiocese has made no effort to find money for these victims ... It is almost akin to a stick your head in the sand and hope it all works out with the battle with the insurance company," said Talach. "If this does not work out, what is the church's plan B?"

Published on December 4, 2018

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