London

Protesters 'disgusted' after Catholic diocese vows to file appeal in sex-abuse case

A group of protesters say they're disgusted after confronting Father John Comiskey in the lobby of the London diocese and hearing the church plans to continue with an appeal in a civil settlement in a civil sex abuse case.

Father Comiskey meets with protesters in the lobby, but says church has a right to appeal

Father John Comiskey met with the protesters in the lobby of the London diocese office but said the church would proceed with its appeal of the judge's decision in the Irene Deschenes case. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

It was a dramatic confrontation in the lobby of London's Catholic diocese head office. 

A group of protesters entered the building, angry at the church's plan to appeal a judge's decision to re-open an 18-year-old settlement in a child sex-abuse case against the church. 

They came to present a letter that implores the church to drop its appeal and instead settle with Irene Deschenes who was sexually abused by the late Father Charles Sylvestre in the early in 1970s. At the time, she was a student at St. Ursula Catholic School and parishioner of Sylvestre's parish in Chatham, Ont.   

Deschenes, now 57, was about 10 years old when she was abused. 

The protesters said dropping the appeal and dealing with Deschenes directly would be an act of contrition that would avoid putting her through another long legal battle. 

The letter was addressed to Bishop Ronald Fabbro, but a group of about a dozen protesters entered the lobby where they were met by Father John Comiskey. A church spokesperson said Fabbro was away and Comiskey was acting on his behalf.

Comiskey said he understood the protestors' concerns, but said the church will still proceed with the appeal. 

"Irene entered into a legal process and we have a legal right to appeal the decision," he said. 

Deschenes settled with the church in 2000. 

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 2007. 

Shortly after his sentencing, it came to light that the church was told about three abuse allegations filed by young girls back in 1962. 

Deschenes argued — and the judge agreed — that information about those 1962 complaints would have affected the $100,000 settlement she signed. 

Settlement entered 'in good faith'

In November of this year a judge ruled to re-open the settlement. It's that decision the church plans to appeal. 

Comiskey said the church entered into the 2000 settlement "in good faith" and that both parties had the same information because church leadership wasn't aware of the 1962 police complaints, which had been misfiled and weren't discovered until months after Sylvestre was sentenced. 

"Based on the knowledge we had, we provided Mr. Deschenes with a fair settlement and it is our right to appeal this," he said. "We respectfully disagree with the judge's decision." 

'Check your moral compass'

Among the protesters was Michelle Schryer of the Chatham-Kent Sexual Assault Crisis Centre. 

She said subjecting Deschenes to an appeal process is a "cruel betrayal" that re-victimizes her. 

"We understand you have a legal right to appeal, but we're asking you to check your moral compass," she said. 

Joining her in the protest was Kate Wiggins from the women's shelter Anova and Megan Walker of the London Abused Women's Centre. 

Walker led a chant of "shame, shame" when Comiskey said the appeal would go ahead. 

"I'll be happy to take that shame," said Comiskey. 

"You would prefer to feel shame than do the right thing by a woman!" said Walker.

After the group presented their letter and left the lobby, Schryer said she's hoping Bishop Fabbro will decide to drop the appeal. 

"I'm disgusted by the response we just had," she said. "I saw no sense of care or compassion for Irene Deschenes.

"Instead of appealing that decision, the church should work with Irene to reach something that is fair. The church has an obligation to make things right." 

A church spokesperson said Fabbro would receive a copy of the letter when he returns.

About the Author

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

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