London

London Catholic Diocese loses appeal in child sexual abuse case

An Ontario appeals court has dismissed a bid by the Diocese of London to fight a lower court's decision to throw out a settlement involving a victim of child sexual abuse.

Deschenes was abused by Father Charles Sylvestre between 1970 and 1973 while she was a young girl

An Ontario appeals court has dismissed a bid by the Diocese of London to fight a lower court's decision to throw out a settlement involving a victim of child sexual abuse.

Justice David Aston ruled in 2018 that London-area resident Irene Deschenes would not have settled with the church for the abuse she suffered at the hands of a priest had the church disclosed key information about previous sexual assault allegations. 

Deschenes was abused by Father Charles Sylvestre between 1970 and 1973 while she was a young girl and a student at St. Ursula Catholic School and parishioner of the parish in Chatham, Ont.  

Sylvestre pleaded guilty in August 2006 to the sexual assaults of 47 victims, all girls under the age of 18. The abuse happened between 1952 and 1986. Sylvestre died in prison in 2007. 

Deschenes started a legal action against the diocese in 1996. At the time, the church argued it had no direct knowledge that Sylvestre was a sexual predator of children, saying the church only became aware of his actions in 1989. 

Based on this information, Deschenes settled with the diocese in 2000 for $100,000. 

It turns out the diocese was told about allegations of the priest's sexual misconduct back in 1962 when three 11-year old girls gave statements to Sarnia police. 

The courts found those reports were misfiled in old accounting records and not found until 2006, just months after Sylvestre was sentenced.

Thursday, three justices with the Appeal's Court of Ontario agreed with first judge's decision that the terms of the settlement would have been different if evidence of previous sexual abuse allegations were disclosed. 

They awarded $60,000 toward Deschenes' legal costs and have opened the door to new civil action to pursue new damages. 

The London Diocese of London issued a statement in regard to the decision. 

"The Diocese of London is disappointed with the decision of the Court of Appeal. We are looking at our next steps," spokesperson Matthew Clarke wrote in an email. 

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