Former Anglican priest says sexual relationship with parishioner was consensual

A former Anglican priest in western Manitoba admits he had a sexual relationship with a parishioner for years, but Nigel Packwood says it was consensual and denies sexually assaulting the woman.

Brandon diocese expresses profound regret, files cross-claim against Nigel Packwood

Nigel Packwood was dean and rector of St. Matthew's Cathedral when he resigned his position with the Anglican Church in August 2016, following a complaint by a parishioner. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

A former Anglican priest in western Manitoba admits he had a sexual relationship with a parishioner for years, but Nigel Packwood says it was consensual and denies sexually assaulting the woman.

The woman sued Packwood in September, and in his statement of defence filed in court last month, he says the woman "was a willing adult participant to the sexual conduct between them, and in many instances was the initiator of such sexual conduct."

Packwood resigned from his position with the church in August 2016 after the woman made a complaint about him to the bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Brandon.

The woman is also suing the synod of the diocese, which says in its statement of defence that the bishop had required Packwood to renounce his ministry.

The diocese has now filed a cross-claim against Packwood, seeking damages toward the woman's claims and toward the legal costs from the lawsuit.

In its defence statement, the diocese expressed profound regret, offered to co-operate with any criminal investigation if the woman chose to pursue criminal charges and offered to pay for 10 sessions of counselling.

At the same time, the diocese's defence statement describes the woman's claims as excessive, vague, exaggerated and overstated, and says they are "the result of other incidents and events in her life both before and after the alleged actions of Packwood."

Pressured to have sex, woman alleges

The woman, who CBC is not identifying due to the nature of the allegations, began individual pastoral counselling sessions with Packwood in 2001. She alleges that the following year, he began pressuring her to have sex with him and began kissing and fondling her, the statement of claim says.

The claim alleges Packwood would sometimes visit the woman at home when he knew her husband would not be there. The woman repeatedly refused to have sex with Packwood, the claim says, until an occasion in 2003 when she "finally relented."

Packwood allegedly forced the woman to submit to sexual intercourse at various locations, which included the church's sanctuary and vestry room. The claim also alleges he "sexually assaulted her on the church pew."

In his statement of defence, Packwood denies those allegations.

"This defendant admits that he had an affair with the plaintiff at the relevant times, but at all times the sexual activities were consensual," Packwood's defence statement says.

He denies the plaintiff's allegation that the relationship between the two "had been a sexually exploitative and abusive one in which her religious faith and her trust in him as a priest and counsellor had been grossly manipulated and betrayed by him to further his own selfish interests at her expense."

The sexual misconduct continued until 2015, the claim alleges, and "none of the sexual activity that occurred between Rev. Packwood and [the plaintiff] was consensual on [her] part."

Packwood denies the allegation in the claim that he was "grossly negligent" in the counselling services he provided to the woman, both individually and jointly with her husband.

Diocese denies breach of duties, negligence

In its defence statement, the diocese says it has not breached any duties to the woman, nor has it been negligent in any fashion.

It also says she failed to mitigate her claims for any injury or damage in a timely way, or at all, and says the action should be dismissed.

Both Packwood and the diocese argue that under Manitoba's Limitation of Actions Act, the woman waited too long to file a lawsuit, which alleges sexual misconduct between 2001 and 2015.

The woman's lawyer filed a reply to that in court, saying there is no time limitation to pursue allegations of assaults of a sexual nature.

In response to the diocese's offer to pay for counselling, the plaintiff's lawyer, Elizabeth Grace, says her client has not been able to receive funding for counselling despite repeated requests.

"It's disappointing that an institution like the Anglican Church that prides itself on being compassionate and caring has provided so little support for one of its members," Grace said.

"I'm hopeful that it will make some funded counselling available to my client."

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