ns-antigonish-church-settle

Bishop Raymond Lahey and Ronald Martin announce the settlement Friday in Halifax. ((CBC))

A Roman Catholic diocese in Nova Scotia has reached a $13-million settlement with people who claimed they were sexually abused by priests going back to 1950.

Raymond Lahey, bishop of the diocese of Antigonish, announced the deal regarding a class-action lawsuit at a news conference Friday in Halifax, and issued an apology.

"I want to formally apologize to every victim and to their families for the sexual abuse that was inflicted upon those young people who were entitled instead to the trust and protection of priests of the church," said Lahey.

"I want them to know how terribly sorry we are, how wrong this abuse was, and how we are now trying to right these past wrongs."

Lahey also apologized directly to Ronald Martin, who initiated the suit against the diocese, the Roman Catholic Church and the bishop himself.

Martin said he has mixed emotions. While he's pleased there is a settlement, he said the damage is done.

"I want to say to the many people out there who have suffered from this horrible situation that I do understand your pain and I want to encourage you to come forward, to enter into this process and let us help you find some peace," he said.

Martin, from New Waterford, said he was abused as a boy by priest Hugh Vincent MacDonald, who died in 2004 while facing sex-related charges involving a dozen children.

Martin's brother, David Martin, made the same claim in a suicide note in 2002.

Deal 'unprecedented'

The suit against the Roman Catholic diocese of Antigonish was filed last year. It claimed the church, under instructions from the Pope, had a policy to keep sex-abuse allegations against priests secret, with ex-communication as the penalty.

It also claimed the church, diocese and bishop sent priests from the Antigonish diocese for treatment for "sexual deviations," but kept it secret and didn't protect children.

Martin said he was always looking for an apology.

"To hear the bishop say today that the diocese accepts responsibility for that and apologizes for that, that is huge to me and to my family. That's all we've wanted from the beginning," he said.

John McKiggan, the lawyer behind the class-action suit, said the settlement covers anyone who claimed they were sexually abused by a priest of the Catholic Episcopal Corp. of Antigonish since 1950.

It's an "unprecedented" deal, he said.

"I am firmly of the belief that we would not be here today if it wasn't for the courage of Ron Martin and the commitment of Bishop Lahey to finding a fair and just resolution to compensate legitimate victims of priest sexual abuse," said McKiggan.

"This is an historic occasion," he added. "This is something we've never seen in Canada."

With files from The Canadian Press