A New Brunswick judge has granted a request from the Roman Catholic diocese of Bathurst to seal any details surrounding financial awards given out as the church settles sexual abuse complaints.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Frederick Ferguson approved the request Monday in Bathurst.

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Bishop Valéry Vienneau said he's satisfied with a New Brunswick judge's decision to seal financial details of compensation offered to victims of sexual assault by clergy. ((CBC))

"The judge said it's unfair that those amounts come out because it would mean that in the future any litigants or claimants that come forward may seek the maximum amount of money that was paid out in the past," CBC reporter Jennifer Choi said from Bathurst. "So the judge said that is not going to be the case. He is going to keep the files sealed and the total amounts closed and confidential."  

Choi said the diocese argued that making the settlements public would be like showing your hand before a poker game.

The court also agreed to keep private the amount the church is paying retired Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache to administer the compensation process.

Bishop Valéry Vienneau said outside the court he was satisfied with the judge's decision. He said it is "absolutely necessary" for the church to be able to proceed in confidentiality in order to protect those people involved.

Ferguson will rule next week on whether the diocese can pay sex-abuse settlements using money from a trust fund intended to help educate people entering the priesthood.

The diocese has $4.35 million in funds built from parishioners' donations, but only six priests have been ordained in the last 20 years, with three more going through the process now. It costs about $60,000 to educate a priest, so the diocese has an excess of funds it would like to tap into, especially because it is unknown how many other people might apply for compensation or decide to sue the church.

35 to be compensated

Rev. Wesley Wade released a statement on Nov. 2 indicating the Catholic diocese would offer an apology and financial compensation to 35 individuals who came forward during the conciliation process led by Bastarache. Bastarache had handed in a report on Nov. 1 that identified the 35 who deserve compensation for having been sexually assaulted by church functionaries.

Bastarache was hired by the diocese after Levi Noel, an 84-year-old former priest, was convicted of 22 sex-related offences, and Charles Picot, a former priest who had worked in Dalhousie, was charged with indecent assault. Noel's offences took place between 1959 and 1981.

The church asked Bastarache to investigate all allegations of sexual assault.

The retired justice would not say in an interview in October how many clergy had been named by victims during his meetings, but he said some have died.

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Michel Bastarache, a retired Supreme Court of Canada justice, recommended compensation be given to 35 victims of sexual abuse committed by Roman Catholic clergy in northern New Brunswick. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

As well, Bastarache said some of the victims named priests who are not in the Bathurst diocese and it will be up to church leaders to contact the dioceses affected by those allegations to see if they would pay the compensation Bastarache is recommending.

Nine people who came forward to meet Bastarache refused to join the conciliation process led by the retired justice, and are opting to take the church to court instead.