RC diocese to appeal ruling on settlement
Judge found diocese knew about abusive priest’s activities before survivor’s 1996 lawsuit
Sexual abuse survivor Irene Deschenes’ civil suit settlement won’t be reopened as soon as she hoped.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of London confirmed Friday it plans to appeal Superior Court Justice David Aston’s Nov. 27 decision allowing Deschenes to set aside the settlement in her 1996 lawsuit for abuse she suffered at the hands of then-priest Charles Sylvestre.
“We respect the judge’s decision, but with respect to him we disagree with his interpretation of the law,” the diocese said in a statement. “The Diocese of London will be pursuing an appeal.”
Deschenes, 57, announced Thursday that, in a groundbreaking court decision, she had been given the go-ahead to reopen the case, citing evidence that the diocese had in its possession Sarnia police reports from 1962 about Sylvestre’s abuse of little girls — proof the diocese knew about Sylvestre’s activities long before Deschenes became one of his victims.
“I find that their appealing this is appalling,” Deschenes said Friday. She said she was initially saddened by the development, then became angry.
“I’m not surprised and the reason I’m not surprised is that it’s another delay tactic,“she said.
She said she plans to keep fighting. “I’m going to be around another 40 years. I have a few more years left in me to fight this and that’s what I am going to do,” she said.
The police reports were discovered in the back of a filing cabinet in the accounting department in October 2006, six years after Deschenes settled the case and two months after Sylvestre was sentenced to three years in prison for 47 counts of indecent assault on girls in Southwestern Ontario parishes between 1952 and 1986.
He died four months into his prison sentence.
The police reports, detailing the statements of three 11-year-old girls who said they had been sexually abused by Sylvestre, were sent to Bishop John Cody, who died of a sudden heart attack in 1963.
The same month, Sylvestre was sent by the church to Quebec.
Aston heard there was an diligent search for information about Sylvestre in church files for Deschenes’ lawsuit. Nothing was found and the church’s position was that no one knew of Sylvestre’s activities and there hadn’t been any complaints before Deschenes’.
Aston sympathized that the search didn’t turn up the police reports, but decided because the church is a corporate body, and because Cody, the bishop and leader, knew about the reports, the diocese knew about it, too.
Deschenes settled in 2000 for $100,000 because she didn’t have the necessary proof that was documented in the police reports that the church had knowledge of Sylvestre’s abusive behaviour.
After she settled, she collected the stories of other women who were abused and took them to the Chatham police. That sparked the criminal prosecution.
Deschenes and one other survivor were the only complainants who went through the civil process without the police reports.