Abuse sur­vivor an­gered by church de­ci­sion to ap­peal re­open­ing of civil set­tle­ment

Windsor Star - - CITY+REGION - JANE SIMS

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.”

Irene Desch­enes

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