An Ontario lawyer is urging victims of sexual abuse by the late priest Camille Léger to avoid the financial compensation being offered by the Archdiocese of Moncton.

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Ontario lawyer Robert Talach is urging victims of sexual abuse by the late priest Camille Léger to avoid the financial compensation being offered by the Archdiocese of Moncton. (CBC)

Robert Talach wants them to choose litigation over the church-sponsored conciliation process.

He contends confidential payouts will only allow the diocese to keep the abuse shrouded in secrecy.

"For the archdiocese to suggest a process where we are going to get to learn who all the boogey men are, dead or alive, and then we're going to dig a hole in the backyard and bury that information is outrageous," said Talach.

"These are monsters, there's no better word. They are the real boogey men." he said.

"This is really the tip of the iceberg and sitting on the tip of the iceberg is the ghost of Father Camille Léger and he's going to have company soon as we start to see more below the waterline of how big a problem this is."

Former justice to hear claims

The diocese announced earlier this week that it had retained Michel Bastarache, the former Supreme Court of Canada justice, to handle all the sexual abuse complaints against Léger, who was a priest in the small southeastern New Brunswick village of Cap-Pelé.

The priest died in 1990 and was never convicted of any crimes.

Normand Brun came forward recently to say that he was compensated fifteen years ago for abuse he suffered from Léger.

Other victims spoke out about the abuse for the first time when the community was debating whether Léger's name should be removed from the village's hockey arena. Léger's name was taken off the arena in March.

'Victims are to come to their process unaided, naive and vulnerable, just the way the church likes them.' —Robert Talach, lawyer

Victims of Léger have until the end of the month to come forward to Bastarache, who will listen to the their claims and decide what the church should pay them. Compensation of between $15,000 and $300,000 will be given out, Bastarache has said.

Talach, who has represented hundreds of victims across the country, does not currently represent any of Léger's victims, but travelled to Moncton to hold a press conference Wednesday to warn them to be wary.

He says victims won't be allowed to have a lawyer with them when they meet with Bastarache.

"Victims are to come to their process unaided, naive and vulnerable, just the way the church likes them," said Talach.

The diocese is being represented by one of the top legal minds in the country and victims should make sure they have their own lawyer to protect their rights, he said.

"You buy a house, you get a lawyer. You write your will, you get a lawyer. You get a divorce, you get a lawyer. Are you going to do the most important thing in your life — as a victim, settle your claim against the perpetrator and institution that destroyed your life without a lawyer?"

"It's an insane concept. The bloody perpetrator gets a lawyer, why can't the victims have one?"

Diocese calls process fair

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Diocese spokesperson Donald Langis says the process saves abuse victims money and protects their privacy. (CBC)

But diocese spokesperson Donald Langis defended the process as fair and criticized Talach's tactics as "misleading" and "untrue.

"Reminds me a lot of American-type lawyering, something you see on American television, but I don't think that's the diocese's intentions," Langis told CBC News.

Hiring Bastarache will save victims from paying huge legal bills, said Langis, diocesan pastoral co-ordinator.

"The Bastarache process is designed to provide fair compensation to victims without the involvement of lawyers who charge up to 40 per cent contingency fees to their clients, thereby enriching themselves at their client’s cost, and who seek to expose their clients to notoriety for their own gain," he said.

It will also allow victims to come forward in private, said Langis.

"It's not to hide. It's to protect the identity of the people involved because of the consequences of what happened to them. A large number of these people have never spoken of this to the public, have never spoken of this to their families."

Bastarache will come up with a process that is independent of the diocese and in which the diocese plays no part, Langis stressed.

Anyone who doesn't like the offer is free to hire a lawyer and sue instead, he said.

Talach contends that's the only fair way for victims to seek justice.

"Why would a victim trust the church now? How can a victim trust the church? The overall Roman Catholic Church's track record on being trusting on this issue is not exactly reassuring," he said.

Church stands to gain

Privacy benefits the diocese, not the victims, said Talach, pointing to a similar process in Bathurst last fall, when the church hired Bastarache to offer compensation to victims of priests in the area.

"We gave them the benefit of the doubt in Bathurst and we saw nothing good come out of that process," he said. "We did not see another priest exposed, charged, outed. We did not see any assembly of this is how we're going to change in the future. We did not see anything positive come out of that."

The only positive thing, said Talach, was that once he and other lawyer got involved, the settlements for victims increased significantly.

Talach said he could not divulge the amounts Bathurst victims received without obtaining client consent. He did say, however, that the highest settlement he has ever achieved for a client was $2 million.

Asked if he has something to gain by representing victims, Talach replied: "Of course, vilify the lawyer.

"Listen, I've made my life representing victims. I haven't made my life covering up crimes of my colleagues. So I mean the pot should not be calling the kettle black here.

"Am I going to get paid for some of this? Of course I am. Who should pay for that? The archdiocese, not the victims."

Diocese may have to sell assets to pay victims

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The Diocese of Antigonish has recouped $2.1 million from selling properties, such as old parish halls to empty houses as of January. CBC

Meanwhile, the diocese may be forced to sell some of its 56 churches, rectories, parish centres or parcels of land to raise money to cover the financial compensation being offered for victims, said Langis.

The diocese will have a better idea of what it will have to pay out once the victims come forward, he said.

"Our financial administrator is looking at different options. And he will come up with proposals and at that time we'll start looking at that seriously and say, 'This we can do, that we can't do and so on and so forth," he said.

"Will we go towards selling parishes? I don't know. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. That's never been brought up until now.

"I would say that's a last resort."

‘Moral obligation to be generous’

The situation being faced by the Archdiocese of Moncton is not unique, however.

Other churches have been forced to sell off assets to pay for compensation stemming from sexual abuse complaints.

For instance, the diocese of Antigonish, N.S., has sold many of its 400 properties in an effort to raise some of the $18 million it owes victims of sexual abuse.

As of January, the diocese had collected $2.1 million from selling properties, such as old parish halls and empty houses.

And there's been a mixed reaction from parishioners in the community.

"There are many specific examples or cases, where the properties in question may be very important in the parish so that created some resentment. In general, I think, people know there is a moral obligation to be generous to the victims," said Charles MacDonald, a parishioner in Sydney, N.S.

Decisions on hold

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The Notre-Dames-de-l’Assomption Cathedral in Moncton needs $7 million to pay for repairs to keep the historic building open. (Radio-Canada)

The church may need to look hard at the need to sell assets. Church incomes in southeastern New Brunswick have dropped considerably in recent years, according to Langis.

Roman Catholic churches have seen shrinking rates of attendance. Out of the 120,000 Catholics in the Moncton diocese, only about 20 per cent actually go to church regularly.

With the diocese in debt and its commitment to compensate victims in Cap-Pelé, other major projects, such as repairing the Notre-Dames-de-l’Assomption Cathedral are on hold.

"But until we have that figure. It's going to be very difficult to take any decisions," Langis said.

The Moncton diocese has a difficult decision on what to do with the historic Notre-Dames-de-l’Assomption Cathedral.

The church has not been able to find the $7 million it needs to keep the downtown Moncton cathedral open. It is also estimated another $3 million would be needed to be put into a trust fund for future repairs.

The cathedral was built in the 1940s and it is a fixture of the Moncton skyline.

When the cathedral was opened it served roughly 1,500 families, now only 300 use it as their church regularly.

Robert Pichette, a prominent Acadian author, said in his book on the cathedral that it has played an important part in the history of the Acadian people in Moncton.