The Archdiocese of Moncton is facing criticism by an Ontario lawyer for its recent announcement of two priests being removed from ministry based on allegations of sexual abuse of children.
The archdiocese informed parishioners during mass last weekend that Father Yvon Arsenault, who was removed in July, and Father Irois Després, who retired in 1992, have been removed "from any ministry whatsoever following allegations of serious sexual abuse on minors."
Retired Supreme Court of Canada justice Michel Bastarache — who was hired by the archdiocese in June to handle a conciliation process for the victims of another priest in Cap-Pelé — brought the latest allegations to the archdiocese's attention, according to a Dec. 30 statement posted on its website.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Robert Talach, a personal injury lawyer, says he is "concerned" about the timing of the announcement because he understands the archdiocese was aware of allegations against at least one of the priests for decades.
Talach says one of Arsenault's alleged victims told him he "had discussions with the archdiocese as early as 1998" about the allegations.
It's not surprising, said Talach, who is representing about 14 alleged victims of abuse in Moncton and another 19 alleged victims in Bathurst.
In May, Normand Brun told CBC News he took his complaint about being abused by the late Léger to the Catholic church in 1997 and received financial compensation.
Brun, who now lives in Vancouver, was unable to discuss how much money he received due to legal reasons, but said the abuse started when he was nine years old and continued for four years.
Talach questions timing
Talach also noted that the archdiocese removed Arsenault from church duties on July 4.
"Someone has to ask them, you know — if you had enough evidence to remove him in July, why didn’t you go public in July?"
Archdiocese officials have declined to comment, but in a statement read aloud at all diocesan churches said Archbishop Valéry Vienneau asks for "forgiveness from the victims and their families."
Arsenault, 70, of Moncton, and Després, 82, who lives in a seniors home in Shediac, could not be reached on Wednesday for comment.
"Let’s remember, we’re talking about an institution that treats itself as the highest moral authority in the land," said Talach.
"One would hope that such an institution would immediately involve the secular authorities — the police — when they find out one of their employees has multiple allegations of sexual abuse, not simply remove him with pay and pension."
Talach said he believes the archdiocese chose to announce the removal of Arsenault and Després now because "it was likely going to come out elsewhere."
At least one of the complainants has already gone to the police, he said.
Talach is urging any other possible victims to do the same.
"I am concerned … that there’s a message going out now to victims of these two living priests to come on down to the archdiocese and we’ll start up a compensation package. That’s absolutely wrong at this stage," he said.
"Nobody should be doing deals right now, there shouldn't be any talk of money. It should be simply going to the police and the archdiocese should be offering its fullest co-operation to the police on this," Talach said.
Arsenault served in churches in southeastern New Brunswick for 44 years, including three in the Moncton area.
Després, originally from Cocagne, served in southeastern New Brunswick churches for 38 years.
Conciliation process continues
The archdiocese's compensation process is expected to wrap up at the end of the month.
"We fully support the [conciliation]
process instigated by Mr. Michel Bastarache for the victims and we pledge to be vigilant to ensure that anyone working in the church fully complies with the policies in place to prevent abuse of any kind," Archbishop Valéry Vienneau said in a statement.
Talach previously urged victims of the former Cap-Pelé priest Camille Léger to avoid the financial compensation being offered by the archdiocese.
He argued confidential payouts would only allow the diocese to keep the abuse shrouded in secrecy and said victims should choose litigation instead of the church-sponsored conciliation process.
Léger died in 1990 and was never convicted of any crimes, but several people in the small, southeastern New Brunswick village came forward last March, alleging they were abused by him as children between 1957 and 1980.
Within a week of the stories of abuse becoming public, then-archbishop André Richard apologized to anyone who was abused by Léger.
Village council also voted to remove Léger's name from the local arena.
Bastarache told CBC News the conciliation process would allow victims to remain anonymous because it was outside of the usual legal system.
It would also see more money go directly to the victims, he said, estimating compensation of between $15,000 and $300,000 for each victim.
Bastarache also handled a church-related sex abuse file in the Acadian peninsula. The Diocese of Bathurst hired him in 2010 after two former priests were charged with sex-related offences.
More than 90 victims came forward and close to 80 came to settlement, Bastarache had said.