London area woman seeks to reopen civil suit against Catholic Diocese

Irene Deschenes reported being sexually abused by Father Charles Sylvestre in 1994 and later settled a civil suit. Now, Deschenes is going to court to reopen her settlement because she claims it was based on misinformation.
Irene Deschenes was abused between the ages of 10 and 12 by a priest working with the London Catholic Diocese. (submitted)

A London-area woman is going to court Friday in an effort to reopen her settlement with the London Catholic Diocese.

Irene Deschenes reported being sexually abused by Father Charles Sylvestre in 1994. He later pleaded guilty to abusing dozens of girls when he worked as a priest in Southwestern Ontario. He died in jail.

Irene Deschenes was abused as a child by a Catholic priest with the London diocese.

Deschenes reached a settlement with lawyers representing the diocese long before Sylvestre went to trial. Now she believes the agreement she signed was reached under false pretences.

"At the time, when I was going through my civil suit, the lawyers for the diocese indicated they had no knowledge or awareness of Sylvestre and his proclivities at the time," said Deschenes. "That was a misrepresentation."

Her lawyer, Loretta Merritt of Torkin Manes in Toronto, said documents have surfaced since Deschenes' settlement that indicate the diocese did know about Sylvestre's behaviour. 

"The church had in its possession police statements indicating that Sylvestre had molested three girls in Sarnia well before he molested Irene, and the church knew about that," Merritt said.

Legal arguments will be made Friday in Ontario Superior Court in London. Merritt admits reopening a civil suit is challenging, but she believes Deschenes has a strong case.

"She thought and relied on them saying, 'We knew nothing about this guy abusing children before you were abused,' as opposed to, 'Yeah we actually had three police statements in our file.'"

Deschenes has a bigger goal than just reopening her civil suit. She wants the world to know what happened in her case. Just as she wasn't the only victim of Charles Sylvestre, she believes other survivors of clergy sexual abuse may have been misled by the Catholic church. 

"I think there are a lot of dioceses world-wide that are hiding this information," she said. "I just want it to be brought into the light."