Woman Repeatedly Abused By Catholic Priest Gets Record Settlement

May 8, 2009

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An Ontario woman who was repeatedly raped by a Roman Catholic priest while she was a girl has received what is believed to be the largest individual settlement in a sexual abuse case in Canada — $2 million.

The victim, Lou Ann Soontiens, was in grade school when the abuse began at the hands of Rev. Charles Sylvestre. It continued for seven years.

Soontiens testified during Sylvestre's trial that at the age of 14 she was impregnated by the priest and that he arranged a botched abortion. She had to be rushed to hospital for emergency medical care.

Soontiens was one of nearly 70 young female victims of Sylvestre who came forward.

Settlements have been reached with more than 50 victims.

The priest was convicted on 47 counts of sexual assault in 2006. He was sentenced to three years in jail, but died in January 2007, just three months into his sentence.

Soontiens's civil case against the Roman Catholic Diocese of London was to start on May 11, but a few days ago the diocese offered to settle for $2 million, including court costs.

It's considered to be the largest individual award for sexual abuse ever in Canada.

At a news conference in London on Friday, Soontiens, 51, said the money will help her put her life back together.

"I cut my grass. I don't travel. I'm a homebody. I don't plan on changing at all, other than trying to heal a little bit more," she said.

Soontiens said she hopes her settlement spurs the diocese to come to terms with about 17 other women who were victims of Sylvester and are currently in negotiations.

Soontiens also told the news conference she is "happy that [Sylvestre] did die, because now I know he can't get me."

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