Sunday, August 9, 2009

Settlement Reached in Lawsuit Against N.S. Diocese Over Alleged sex Abuse

Original article
By Alison Auld (CP) –

HALIFAX, N.S. — When Ron Martin read his younger brother's suicide note seven years ago, he was stunned to find out that his sibling claimed he had been sexually assaulted by the priest of their small Nova Scotia parish.

Martin knew nothing of his brother's torment on the day in April 2002 when he identified his remains, but said he shared the same pain of prolonged sexual abuse by a priest who had been invited into the family home every week for Sunday dinner.

He vowed to pursue charges against the priest and made a promise to his brother not to let his death go in vain.

On Friday, Martin, his lawyer and the bishop of the Antigonish diocese named in a class-action lawsuit announced a historic settlement for people alleged and known to have been abused by priests in the rural community as far back as 1950.

"I feel like I fulfilled that promise to him, so I feel like that part of my life is settled," Martin told reporters at a news conference in Halifax, moments after the diocese issued a formal apology to the victims.

"To hear the bishop say today that the diocese accepts responsibility for that and apologize for that, that is huge for me and my family. That's all we've wanted from the beginning."

The proposed $13-million settlement would compensate anyone who was allegedly and known to have been sexually assaulted by a priest of the Catholic Episcopal Corp. of Antigonish since Jan. 1, 1950.

It has to be approved by the provincial Supreme Court, which will hear the case in September.

Bishop Raymond Lahey of the Antigonish diocese said the agreement is the first step in recognizing the alleged abuse of children as young as eight years old.

"I want to formally apologize to every victim and to their families for the sexual abuse that was inflicted upon those who were instead entitled to the trust and protection of priests," he said.

"Money can never compensate fully, but we are trying ... to be fair, responsible, respectful and, most of all, compassionate."

John McKiggan, Martin's lawyer, said he has already heard from more than two dozen people who claim they were sexually assaulted by priests in the parish in the '50s and '60s.

He said the case will likely grow as more people learn about the settlement, which McKiggan said was the first of its kind in Canada for the way in which the church and the plaintiffs reached a resolution.

Sexual abuse claims that have been filed against churches in Canada and the United States have typically been fought through the courts for years until they declare bankruptcy or the alleged victims give up, he said.

"This is an extraordinary resolution of claims against the church that is unprecedented in Canada and I think in North America," he said.

"This is a historic occasion. It's something we've never seen in Canada."

The lawsuit against the Antigonish diocese and the Roman Catholic Church alleged that they kept the assaults secret and failed to warn or protect children.

Police began looking into the case after they reviewed allegations in the suicide note written by Martin's brother, David, whose abuse allegedly began when he was 11 years old.

Hugh Vincent MacDonald, the former priest who was alleged to have assaulted the Martin brothers, eventually faced charges including rape and indecent assault involving 18 children between the ages of eight and 15.

MacDonald, who served in various parishes in Pictou, Guysborough and Antigonish, was facing 27 charges when he died in 2004, leaving little chance charges against him would be pursued legally.

The suit claims MacDonald and four other priests were sexually assaulting children in their care between 1960 and 2008. Several have already been convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse against children in the care of the diocese.

Ron Martin claimed that MacDonald began abusing him when he was 13 and that it continued for about two years.

Lahey conceded that it will be difficult for the parish in an economically depressed region to come up with the money, adding that parishioners will have to carry some of the cost for several years.

"There are going to be very heavy financial burdens on every parish as a result of this," he said.

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