London, Ont., diocese settles with sex abuse victim

The Diocese of London has reached a settlement with a woman believed to have been the youngest victim of Charles Sylvestre, one of the worst convicted pedophile priests in Canadian history.

A 32-year-old woman believed to have been the youngest sexual abuse victim of one of Canada's worst convicted pedophile priests has reached a financial settlement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of London, Ont.

Cecilia McLauchlin, of Chatham, Ont., announced the settlement at her lawyer's office in London Friday. She would not disclose the amount of her settlement but said she tried to settle with the diocese last year for an amount "substantially lower" than what she was finally awarded.

McLauchlin said she was just three years old when she was first sexually assaulted by Charles Sylvestre, a parish priest at Immaculée Conception Catholic Church in Pain Court, Ont., about 80 kilometres east of Windsor. She said the abuse began in 1981 and continued for two years.

McLauchlin is one of about 70 women who have come forward so far alleging they were abused by Sylvestre during his 45-year career as a priest in parishes throughout southwestern Ontario.

In 2006, Sylvestre was convicted of sexual abusing 47 young girls. He was sentenced to three years in prison and died there in January 2007, at the age of 84.

Following the trial, more women came forward and launched individual lawsuits, including McLauchlin. The London diocese has settled with 50 women so far, including some who were included in the 2006 lawsuit.

Settlement 'fair and reasonable': diocese

In a statement released Friday, the London diocese said it was "please to have reached a fair and reasonable settlement" with McLauchlin.

"We are sorry for all of the hurt she and others have experienced as a result of the actions of Charles Sylvestre," the diocese said in the statement. "We continue to strive to make fair and reasonable settlements with other victims."

In May, the diocese paid $2 million to Lou Ann Soontiens, believed to be the largest individual settlement in a sexual abuse case in Canada.

'A huge weight lifted'

McLauchlin told CBC News she is reluctant to compare her story to that of other victims since each case is different. Nevertheless, like many of the victims, she has struggled with trust, self-esteem and self-confidence her entire life. She said she also felt ashamed and guilty that she did not speak up about the abuse until three years ago.

On Friday, she said, it's like "a huge weight has been lifted."

"I believe that doing this will help with my healing," she said. "Basically, I want the other victims to look at this as I've cleared a path for them, and I hope that they can look at me as a victim and truly as a beacon of hope for them."

She credits her family and lawyers, not the diocese, with helping her through what she called "the worst thing I've had to endure."

"The London diocese has absolutely dragged this on and has caused much more unneeded pain to myself and family," she said.

"Right now, I'm numb. I'm numb to this being over. It seems like a dream to me."

'Running toward something'

McLauchlin said one good thing has come out of her ordeal: she's taken up running, what she calls "a huge accomplishment."

"A special friend had stated to me that people that run are either running away from something or running toward something," she said.

"And for the last 29 years, I have been running away from the abuse, but after the press conference I look forward to running toward the rest of my life."

She's even registered to run in the Detroit Free Press/Flagstar Marathon on Oct. 18.