Blame tough lives of priests' victims on economy, not abuse, says church

The Archdiocese of Moncton continues to deny responsibility for sexual assaults its priests are accused of having committed, according to documents filed in court in response to civil suits.

Archdiocese says lawsuits over sexual assaults are 'unreasonable' and it should not have to pay compensation

Yvon Arsenault, in a picture from February 2017, is in prison for molesting nine boys between 1971 and 1980, while serving as a Catholic priest. (CBC)

The Archdiocese of Moncton continues to deny responsibility for the sexual assaults against children that its priests are accused of having committed decades ago.

In two new documents filed in court, the archdiocese says it should not have to pay compensation, whether the abuse happened or not.

It also says if victims had difficulty making a living, it is because of economic, linguistic and other factors present in New Brunswick at the time, rather than the emotional and psychological trauma they suffered.

The documents are statements of defence in response to civil lawsuits alleging abuse at the hands of former priests Yvon Arsenault and Camille Leger.

Arsenault was sent to prison for four years, after admitting to molesting young boys when he was a priest in Shediac and Collette in the 1970s.

Camille Leger died in 1991 before he was ever accused of any crimes. He was priest at Sainte-Therese-d'Avila parish in Cap Pelé from 1957 to 1980 and is estimated to have abused more than 100 boys.

Camille Leger is believed to have had hundreds of victims as a priest in Cap-Pelé, but the church said it didn't hear about the allegations until after he died. (CBC)

In its defence, the archdiocese said that the accusations that it acted negligently are "without foundation or merit."

"Camille Leger was … by all accounts perceived as a cleric dedicated to his calling," one of the statements says. "The archdiocese at no material time received any complaint about him until long after his death."

The archdiocese also argues it provided pastoral care to those harmed by priests and set up a conciliation process for victims, but it calls these civil lawsuits "unreasonable."

'Terribly insulting for the community'

To the argument that victims were emotionally traumatized by the abuse and unable to complete an education or earn a decent income, the church maintains it is not responsible for what happened to those individuals through the course of their lives.

"Such damage was on account of existing sociological, educational, linguistic and economic factors present in New Brunswick and elsewhere at material times, which factors were not caused by the archdiocese," the defence document says.

Moncton lawyer Rene LeBlanc, who is representing victims in some lawsuits against New Brunswick priests, said he has trouble with the arguments made by the church.

Moncton lawyer Rene LeBlanc says the church's defence is insulting to the community. (CBC)

"That basically people in Cap Pelé weren't going to amount to anything anyway, so, you know, we shouldn't have to pay loss of income," said LeBlanc. "Frankly, I find it terribly insulting for the community."

A similar argument is used to deny responsibility for psychological anguish the victims experienced.

"Such losses or damages arose from mental or physical conditions that existed prior to the assaults or were acquired … after the assaults," says the church statement.

'Illegal' contract

The church's latest defence is no different from arguments it's used in the past. There are more than 50 sex scandal lawsuits before New Brunswick courts.

But the archdiocese appears to have taken things a step further, going after the lawyers as well and suggesting the arrangement between them and the victims is improper.

"The plaintiff has entered into an illegal, inflated and unenforceable agreement of contingency with his solicitors, the result of which is to promote unreasonable litigation … and to increase costs to the archdiocese," the church says.

The Achdiocese of Moncton calls the lawsuits 'unreasonable.' (CBC)

"I find it pretty offensive," said lawyer Rob Talach, who represents several victims.

Talach said he is planning to file a motion to have the argument struck from the pleadings.

"I see this as typical distraction by the church to try and blame somebody else or raise some issue, other than to simply look in the mirror to their own misconduct," he said.

An agreement of contingency is one where the client doesn't have to pay for a lawyer until the case is resolved, at which point the attorney receives a percentage of the settlement.

Talach said in these cases, it is 25 per cent.

Retired judge Michel Bastarache led a conciliation process for victims in Moncton between 2012 and 2014. (CBC)

The church also argued it shouldn't have to pay because it already engaged in a conciliation process in 2012, led by retired judge Michel Bastarache and meant to compensate victims.

"The plaintiff chose not to enter that process, and cannot complain of not being provided for as a result," the archdiocese said in its defence.

Bastarache compensated victims based on the severity of the abuse, how old they were when it started, and how many years it lasted. Each victim received between $15,000 and $300,000.

But Talach said not all of the victims were ready to speak at that time or willing to go through the process on their own.

"These people had to go and negotiate on something that was very traumatic for them without any professional assistance at their side," Talach said.

"Those that went to former justice Bastarache were not allowed to have a lawyer, and essentially had to go face the dragon without a shield or sword."

About the Author

Gabrielle Fahmy

Reporter

Gabrielle Fahmy is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been a journalist with the CBC since 2014.