Priest who worked in Eastern Townships suspended after sex allegations

A priest who taught history at a Catholic boarding school in the Eastern Townships has been suspended after an application for a class-action lawsuit was filed alleging he sexually assaulted at least one of his students.

Father Jacques Desgrandchamps suspended weekly mass in Ottawa

The sex abuse is alleged to have taken place at the Collège Servite in Ayer's Cliff, in Quebec's Eastern Townships between 1973 and 1975. (Radio-Canada)

A priest who taught history at a Catholic boarding school in the Eastern Townships has been suspended after an application for a class-action lawsuit was filed alleging he sexually assaulted at least one of his students. 

In the document, a 57-year-old man accuses the Collège Servite in Ayer's Cliff, Que., and the religious Servite Order community of turning a blind eye to the alleged abuse he was a victim of between 1973 and 1975, at the hands of Father Jacques Desgrandchamps. 

The man was 12 at the time. He has chosen to remain anonymous, but his lawyer, Robert Kugler, says a class action lawsuit was chosen in order to allow other potential victims to come forward.

The lawsuit application alleges former teacher at the college and now-suspended priest in Ottawa sexually assaulted at least one of his students in the 1970s. (Radio-Canada)

Kugler and his client are waiting on the approval of Quebec's Superior Court to proceed with the lawsuit, and are asking for nearly $2 million in damages. 

No criminal charges have been laid.

'Nobody ever assisted him'

Kugler says his client was given alcohol and repeatedly sexually abused in Desgrandchamps's bedroom in a wing off limits to students. 

"Nobody ever asked the question. Nobody ever intervened. Nobody ever assisted him," Kugler said, adding the man has had a difficult and lonely life since, suffering from anxiety, depression, problems with drugs and alcohol.

The Servite Order says it immediately suspended Desgrandchamps from his functions at the St. Anthony of Padua church in Ottawa, when it received the lawsuit application. 

Priest admits to having sex with some students

Desgrandchamps has been suspended from the Servite Order and from the mass he gives on Sundays at the St. Anthony of Padua church in Ottawa. (Radio-Canada)

In an interview with Radio-Canada, Desgrandchamps said he was upset, shattered and panicked by the allegations.

He confirmed he taught at the school in the 1970s, but doesn't know who filed the motion. He also admitted to having sex with some students when he was a teacher.

"There was no violence, it was a search for consolation. It's also maybe, eventually, of being turned on by children," Desgrandchamps told Radio-Canada. 

He admitted to having done "silly things" but that he believed he was being targeted because of "representing a certain authority to them, a certain way of life and they'll try to ruin you," Desgrandchamps said of the allegations.
The school's current director François Leblanc said the allegations took him by surprise. (Radio-Canada)

Diocese commits to safe space

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Ottawa said it is committed to establishing "a safe environment in the church for minors and other vulnerable persons."

"The Archdiocese of Ottawa encourages Catholics and all members of society to protect minors and all vulnerable persons," the Archdiocese said.

"And commit to rising to the height of their responsibilities and obligations towards the victims in their search for justice and truth."

School no longer run by priests

The Collège Servite is no longer run by priests, but its religious roots can be felt from its name to the symbols that endow its facade.

The Collège's director, François Leblanc, said Tuesday the school has been made aware of the application and that it's taking it seriously. 

"It's very sad. For me, it was a big surprise," Leblanc said.

with files from Radio-Canada and CBC Montreal's Kate McKenna