Victims Reach Deal With Church

October 11, 2008

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Details of agreement with Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie to be released next week

The battle of a former Sudbury- area man who launched a $3.1-million lawsuit three years ago against the Roman Catholic Church and one of its priests is drawing to a close.

Robert Berube, 53, and a second man known only as Claude, who filed a similar claim two years later, have reached a settlement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie.

Their lawyer announced Friday the men will hold a news conference next week in Sudbury to discuss their "long journey for truth, healing and justice."

It's expected the details of the settlement will be announced at that time.

Rob Talach, a lawyer with Ledroit Beckett Litigation Lawyers in London, filed the suits against the diocese for sexual abuse his clients allegedly suffered at the hands of Father Jean-Claude Etienne of Warren more than 30 years ago. Etienne died in 1997 at age 66.

Talach confirmed Friday his clients have settled their claims against the diocese, but would not release details.

In a written release, Talach

said Berube and Claude will provide a public update Thursday on the "progress of their litigation, healing and personal struggles."

Claude's $4.5-million lawsuit against the diocese was made public early in 2007. Then 48, he asked his last name not be published because he hadn't told family members what he experienced as a child. Berube told reporters in the summer of 2005 that Etienne abused him for 3 1/2 years, beginning in 1969 when he was 13.

His claim listed a dozen particulars of the alleged abuse, including fondling, oral sex, sodomy, striking, punching, throwing and assault. The claim alleged that Etienne "engaged in a pattern of behaviour that was intended to make the plaintiff feel that his soul was in jeopardy."

The diocese was named in that lawsuit, and in Claude's, on the reasoning that since it employed Etienne, it was legally responsible for his actions.

Berube, a former school principal in London, Ont., told reporters in 2005 he wouldn't have been able to get out of bed had it not been for family support, therapy and antidepressants.

"I'm not lying down any more in bed saying I want to die," he said, speaking of his determination to heal, to hold the church accountable and to help other victims.

In February 2007, Talach announced his firm was handling three more lawsuits against the diocese, one on behalf of Claude.

"There are wonderful, holy men who serve in the priesthood," said Talach. "There are also some monsters operating in the cloth."

In February 2007, Claude

told reporters the abuse against him lasted about three years, starting when he was 10 years old.

In involved Etienne, who was pastor at St. Thomas Apotre Parish and St. Thomas Separate School in Warren.

"That's the guy that got raped," he said, pointing to a large photograph of himself as a boy. "I was gonna die."

Claude said at the time he loved the priest whom he charged sexually abused, assaulted and molested him.

Two other men, one from Sault Ste. Marie and another from North Bay, announced similar $4.5-million lawsuits against the diocese and some of its priests at that news conference.

Talach held another news conference in January, announcing six more civil lawsuits his firm had filed against the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie.

Many of those plaintiffs came forward after media reports announcing earlier lawsuits.

The allegations in most of the lawsuits have yet to be proven in a court of law.

In February 2007, Talach urged Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe to do the right thing and offer "true Christian ministry" to men whom he claimed have suffered physical and mental agony, lost educational and work opportunities, and crippling self-blame.

Berube wrote a play about his experiences as a victim of child sexual abuse called "The Highbury Hilton," and it was performed last year at the London Fringe Festival.

The play educates the public about the trauma children suffer who are victims of sexual abuse, he said.

In earlier interviews with The Sudbury Star, Berube said there are good priests in the Roman Catholic Church, but that they are suffering silently because of the devious acts of some of their colleagues.

He called on Plouffe to publicly apologize to victims of child sexual abuse by clergy, and to release people who settle claims privately from gag orders often imposed in those settlements.

He also called for priests convicted of child sexual abuse to be defrocked and excommunicated.

In 2003, a civil judge awarded a Sudbury man known as John Doe $1.4 million in damages for sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Sudbury priest Thomas O'Dell.

O'Dell was convicted criminally and served several years in prison.

The diocese initially appealed the civil verdict, the largest of its kind at the time, but later withdrew the appeal and agreed to pay damages and more than $600,000 in legal expenses on top of that.

The news conference will be held Thursday at 11 a. m. in the Notre Dame Conference Room at the Radisson Hotel at 85 Ste. Anne Rd.

Talach said the purpose of the conference is to allow Berube and Claude to thank those who have supported them "and to let other victims know that justice and healing can be achieved."

The event is open to media, survivors and their supporters, said Talach.

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