Abuse survivor angered by church decision to appeal reopening of civil settlement
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 will appeal Superior Court Justice David Aston’s decision released on Nov. 27 allowing Deschene to set aside the settlement reached in her 1996 lawsuit for abuse she suffered at the hands of former 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 prepared 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 was proof that 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 that the church would make the move.
“I’m not surprised, and the reason I’m not surprised is that it’s another delay tactic,” she said. However, she said, she plans to keep fighting because she has “the truth” on her side and the proof. “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 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 across southwestern Ontario in various 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 in 1963.
The same month of the police statements, Sylvestre was sent by the church to Roxboro, Que. Aston heard during the motion in a London courtroom in September that there was a diligent search for information about Sylvestre in the church’s 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 at the time didn’t turn up the police reports, but said it didn’t let the church off the hook. He decided that 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 was assaulted from the age of 10 to 12, between 1970 and 1973, when she attended St. Ursula’s Church in Chatham. She settled the case 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 a large criminal prosecution that involved women from London, Sarnia, Windsor, Chatham and Pain Court.
Deschenes and a fellow survivor who sued the church at the same time were the only complainants who went through the civil process without the police reports. Since her news conference on Thursday, Deschenes said she has received wide support through texts, phone calls, emails and Facebook messages.
“People are really supporting me and telling me to keep on fighting the good fight,” she said. “And that’s what I’m going to do.”