Montreal

Man abused by priest launches class action suit against Montreal Catholic archdiocese

The suit, launched by one of the victims of sexual assailant Fr. Brian Boucher, is seeking compensation for anyone who may have been sexually assaulted by a Montreal Catholic priest or church staff member since 1940.

Suit seeking compensation for any victims of Montreal priests since 1940

One of the men who was sexually assaulted by Fr. Brian Boucher, seen here during his trial, has launched a class action lawsuit against the Montreal archdiocese, alleging it knew or should have known about the abuse. (CBC News)

One of the victims of Brian Boucher, the Montreal priest sentenced to eight years in prison earlier this month for sexual interference and sexual assault, has filed a request to launch a class action lawsuit against the Montreal Catholic archdiocese.

The suit is seeking compensation for anyone who may have been sexually assaulted by a Montreal Catholic priest or a church staff member since 1940.

Lawyers who filed the suit believe that could amount to hundreds of victims.

The suit comes just a week after the Montreal archdiocese announced a sweeping review of its archives to determine the number and nature of cases of alleged sexual abuse committed against minors.

The archdiocese, along with four other Montreal-area dioceses, hired retired Superior Court justice Anne-Marie Trahan to conduct the audit.

The audit was in part a response to the case of Boucher, who was sentenced last Monday. 

Victim seeking $600K from church

Brian Boucher was sentenced to eight years in prison last week for sexually assaulting two former altar boys. (SPVM)

The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, now 33, was just 10 years old when Boucher started abusing him.

The abuse happened while Boucher was the rector of St. John Brébeuf parish in LaSalle in the late 1990s.

During the criminal trial, the victim described how Boucher, over a period of three years, would drive him to motels, force him to watch pornography and then sexually assault him.

"These sexual assaults caused the applicant anxiety, trust and intimacy issues and anger, to name a few," read documents filed in court.

Boucher's victim is seeking a total of $600,000 from the archdiocese in damages for himself, plus additional damages for any other victims who may join the class action.

'Culture of silence'

The court filing squarely took aim at the archdiocese for failing to protect children.

"The [priests] were assumed to be sources of comfort, examples to be followed and religious guides," the filing said.

"They used their position of religious authority in order to develop connections with class members, wrongfully earning their trust," it continued.

"The respondents knew or should have known that Abbot Boucher was sexually assaulting children," the filing said.

The suit alleges the archdiocese failed to institute security or supervision policies to prevent priests from committing sexual assault.

"The respondents failed to respect their own internal rules and opted instead for a culture of silence," the filing said.

More victims may come forward

The court filing also outlined why a class action lawsuit is the ideal recourse for victims of church abuse.

"Victims of sexual assault by members of the clergy have great difficulty in reporting the assault they suffered, notable due to shame, fear of not being believed, and fear of confronting idealized institutions or people," the filing said.

The filing said for that reason many victims would be unlikely to launch individual lawsuits.

"The confidentiality a class action affords allows sexual assault victims to report, often for the first time, sexual assault, to obtain compensation and to initiate a healing process," it continued.

The suit also alleges that Boucher may have had more victims.  He was convicted of assaulting two boys, but the court filing said the lead plaintiff is aware of at least one other victim whose case has not yet come to light.

Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine asked retired Superior Court justice Anne-Marie Trahan to conduct an audit to determine the number and nature of cases of alleged sexual abuse in five Catholic dioceses in Quebec. The move was, in part, a response to the Boucher case. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Diocese responds

The diocese responded to the lawsuit in a statement emailed to CBC.

"The Diocese of Montreal strongly condemns all inappropriate acts affecting both minors and adults, and has been proactive in denouncing acts committed by Brian Boucher," it said.

The statement goes on to cite the audit commissioned last week as an example of the Roman Catholic Church's desire to shed light on abuse.

"The Archdiocese wants to assure all Catholics and the general public that anyone coming forth with allegations of abuse will be received openly and listened to carefully," the statement said.

In an interview with CBC, Virginie Dufresne-Lemire, one of the lawyers who filed the class action request, said that the audit commissioned by the church was inconsequential.

"We have no idea what will be made public at the end. They said they would issue some statistics. That doesn't change anything for the class action," Dufresne-Lemire said.

None of the allegations against the archdiocese has been tested in court.

A judge must approve the class action lawsuit before it can proceed.

About the Author

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

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