Montreal

Five elderly Catholic clerics arrested in Joliette for alleged sexual abuse of minors

The Sûreté du Québec's major crimes unit arrested the men, members of the Clerics of St. Viator teaching order, who are between the ages of 78 and 88. They are facing more than 30 charges in all, including sexual assault.

The men, members of Clerics of St. Viator religious order, allegedly abused boys between 1961 and 1989

The provincial home of the Clercs de Saint-Viateur in Joliette, Que. The Catholic teaching order originated in France in the 19th century. (Simon-Marc Charron/Radio-Canada)

Quebec provincial police have arrested five elderly members of a Catholic teaching order, the Clerics of St. Viator, for allegedly sexually abusing boys in their care over the span of almost 30 years.

The Sûreté du Québec's major crimes unit carried out arrest warrants for the men, who are between the ages of 78 and 88, in a home in Joliette belonging to their congregation, known in French as the Clercs de Saint-Viateur. 

The men are facing more than 30 charges in total, including gross indecency, sexual assault and indecent assault. The men were interviewed by investigators and arraigned Tuesday via teleconference in courthouses in Joliette, Valleyfield and Montreal.

The alleged crimes took place between 1961 and 1989, when the men were responsible for instructing minors in religious educational institutions in the Montérégie, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspé and Laurentians regions, the SQ said in a statement.

SQ spokesperson Sgt. Ingrid Asselin said that 15 alleged victims of the clerics have come forward. She said they are all male and were minors at the time they say were assaulted.

Despite the alleged crimes going back decades, Asselin said the victims only made criminal complaints recently.

Police say anyone with additional information is asked to call them at 1-800-659-4264.

The congregation, the Clercs de Saint-Viateur du Canada, is also facing a class-action lawsuit for alleged sexual abuse by some clerics that took place at more than 20 institutions.

"Justice will follow its course, but the assailants must understand that they will never be sheltered from being accountable for their crimes," said Justin Wee, whose law firm Arsenault Dufresne Wee represents about 270 alleged victims in a class action lawsuit against the congregation.

The class action, filed in 2017, includes incidents alleged to have happened as long ago as the 1930s. Wee said that since the arrests Tuesday morning, his office has received dozens of more calls making complaints about members of the congregation.

"We as a society are proving that we are able to listen to the victims, which wasn't the case 20 years ago," he said.

Earlier this month, the Quebec government tabled Bill 55, proposed legislation to abolish the statute of limitations on civil proceedings in cases of alleged sexual assault.

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, there is no time limit on criminal charges for sexual assault.

The Clercs de Saint-Viateur du Canada told CBC News in a statement that the congregation is co-operating with authorities and would not comment further at this time.

With files from Lauren McCallum

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