New Brunswick

N.B. court opens church funds to abuse victims

Money from 21 trust funds intended to help educate those entering the priesthood can be used to pay victims of sexual abuse, the New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench has ruled.

Money from 21 trust funds intended to help educate those entering the priesthood can be used to pay victims of sexual abuse, the New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench has ruled.

The trust funds are made up of money left to L’Évêque Catholique Romain de Bathurst over the last 100 years and are now valued altogether at $4.3 million. The diocese had applied to the court to broaden the terms governing the trusts, allowing it access to the money.

The diocese's application argued that if the funds could be used to pay compensation claims stemming from a civil conciliation process, avoiding further legal action, the financial and corporate demise of the diocese could be avoided.

The ruling says $1.5 million will be kept in the funds to continue to educate priests.

Court documents show only seven prospective students have asked for financial help in the past 15 years.

So far, 35 people have come forward seeking compensation related to abuse claims.

Nine people who came forward refused to join the conciliation process led by retired justice Michel Bastarache and have opted to take the church to court instead.

Bastarache was hired by the diocese to conduct the conciliation earlier this year after Levi Noel, a former priest, pleaded guilty to charges of sexual assault against 18 boys between 1958 and 1980.

Court documents state: "It is likely that the steady growth of the funds would have continued unabated and thus untouched had the diocese not voluntarily accepted civil responsibility for the sexual abuse of a number of persons within the diocese, at present numbering approximately 45, committed between the late 1950s and the 1980s by one or more of its priests."

Noel, who is now 85, is currently serving a federal sentence of eight years for 18 sexual abuse related charges.

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