Manitoba·CBC Investigates

Parishioner suing former Manitoba Anglican priest for alleged sexual exploitation

A woman who was a parishioner of an Anglican church in western Manitoba is alleging she was exploited and sexually assaulted by her priest for years, after he manipulated her into a sexual relationship.

Brandon bishop 'horrified' by allegations, says he demanded priest’s resignation

A woman is suing her former priest, Nigel Packwood, along with the Anglican Diocese of Brandon, alleging Packwood 'initiated and maintained' an illicit and long-standing sexual relationship with her. (Rivers Banner, Anglican Diocese of Brandon)

A woman who was a parishioner of an Anglican church in western Manitoba is alleging she was exploited and sexually assaulted by her priest for years, after he manipulated her into a sexual relationship.

The woman is suing former priest Nigel Packwood and the Anglican synod of the Diocese of Brandon.

Packwood "initiated and maintained" an illicit and long-standing sexual relationship with the parishioner, says the statement of claim filed Sept. 19 in Winnipeg.

"Rev. Packwood exploited and misused the power, authority and discretion conferred upon him by the Diocese to gain access to confidential information about [the plaintiff] and her circumstances and to initiate and maintain illicit intimate sexual contact with, and to manipulate, control and sexually exploit [the plaintiff] for his own personal sexual gratification," the claim says.

"I can't comment," said Dave Hill, Packwood's lawyer. "The matter is before the courts. I can tell you that a statement of defence will be filed within the next couple of weeks," Hill said.

CBC is not naming the plaintiff because of the nature of the allegations.

The claim alleges that starting in 2001, the woman began individual counselling sessions with the priest in which she "entrusted Rev. Packwood with private and intimate details about herself and her life."

She was living in western Manitoba, where Packwood was the minister at an Anglican church.

"Under the guise of comforting and reassuring her, he would hold her in his arms. He would subsequently add a hug at the end of each counselling session," the claim says.

Pulled down his pants

Packwood began "repeatedly pressuring" the woman to have sex with him, the claim says. "She repeatedly refused to do so."

The claim alleges Packwood's hugs during counselling sessions progressed to touching and fondling.

In 2002, the woman allegedly told Packwood "she wanted him to stop touching her and making sexualized comments."

The claim alleges Packwood pulled down his pants and exposed himself to the woman in the church's sanctuary in January 2003. The following month, while making a parishioner visitation to the woman's home, Packwood pressed the woman to have sexual intercourse with him when he knew she was at home alone, the claim says.

It alleges that later in 2003, Packwood "forced her to submit to sexual intercourse in the church's sanctuary" and, on another occasion, in the vestry room at the church. The claim also alleges that he "sexually assaulted her on the church pew."

"Thereafter, Rev. Packwood pressed [the plaintiff] to have sexual intercourse with him on a regular basis," the claim said.

Text messages and nude photos

In subsequent years, the plaintiff relocated to two different communities.

Packwood rose to the rank of dean in the western Manitoba Anglican Church in 2014 and oversaw St. Matthew's Cathedral in Brandon.

The claim alleges in 2014, Rev. Packwood maintained contact with the plaintiff via text messaging and cellphone.

"He sent her suggestive text messages and nude photos of himself. He urged her to reciprocate with nude photos of herself, but she refused," the claim said. "He insisted they engage in phone sex and would call her from the churches where he was rector."

The claim alleges the last occasion of sexual misconduct by Packwood happened in 2015, when he phoned the plaintiff and pressed her to engage in phone sex with him.

"Rev. Packwood was controlling and he dominated [the plaintiff] psychologically and sexually. He pressed her into submitting to and satisfying his sexual whims and fantasies," the claim says, using "manipulation to entrap and isolate" her.

'Lack of consent,' claim says

"None of the sexual activity that occurred between Rev. Packwood and [the plaintiff] was consensual on [her] part. Her lack of consent was or should have been apparent to Rev. Packwood as a result of words spoken and written and gestures made by her," the claim said.

It was not until 2015 that the woman "began to appreciate that her relationship with Rev. Packwood 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 claim says.

She confronted Packwood at that point via text message, accusing him of clergy sexual misconduct, it says. In 2016, she made a formal complaint about Packwood to the newly appointed Anglican Bishop of Brandon.

Immediate action taken: bishop

The claim alleges the diocese which employed Packwood breached its duties by failing to appropriately investigate and evaluate Rev. Packwood's background and suitability as a priest.

Bishop William Cliff said the complainant approached him in August 2016 and he took immediate action and had Packwood removed from the parish that day.

"I was horrified," Cliff said in an interview with CBC.

"We have a sexual abuse task force," Cliff said. "But in this case ... I asked for his resignation and he resigned, and then he renounced his ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada."
Bishop William Cliff, of the Diocese of Brandon, denies allegations in the statement of claim that the diocese knew of problems with Nigel Packwood’s alleged misconduct. (Anglican Diocese of Brandon)

Cliff, who's been the bishop since 2016, categorically denies the allegations in the statement of claim that the diocese knew of problems with Packwood's alleged misconduct.

"We had no knowledge of this behaviour so I don't know what we could have done," said Cliff.

Cliff said the diocese has had a sexual abuse policy in place since 1994.

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