Moncton diocese must find funds to pay abuse victims

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Other churches have sold assets to recoup funds to pay abuse victims

CBC News
Posted: Jun 6, 2012 7:50 AM AT
Last Updated: Jun 6, 2012 1:06 PM AT

The Archdiocese of Moncton wants to offer financial compensation to victims of sexual abuse by the late priest Camille Léger but it may be forced to sell some of its its assets in order to raise the funds.

The diocese announced this week that it had retained Michel Bastarache, the former Supreme Court of Canada justice, to handle all the sexual abuse complaints against Léger, who was a priest in the small southeastern New Brunswick village of Cap-Pelé.

Donald Langis, the diocese spokesperson, said it is not yet known whether some of the 56 churches, rectories, parish centres or parcels of land will need to be sold to raise money to pay for the financial compensation.

Donald Langis said it would be a last resort to sell off any of the diocese’s assets to pay for compensation for abuse victims.Donald Langis said it would be a last resort to sell off any of the diocese’s assets to pay for compensation for abuse victims. (CBC)

“Will we go towards selling parishes, I don’t know. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. That’s never been brought up until now,” he said.

“I would say that’s a last resort.”

Sexual abuse victims of Léger have until the end of the month to come forward to Bastarache. The former justice has said compensation between $15,000 to $300,000 will be given out to Léger’s victims.

Victims should hire their own lawyer

Meanwhile, a lawyer who specializes in helping victims of sexual abuse by priests is warning those victims not to deal with Bastarache.

Robert Talach, who has represented hundreds of victims across the country, says the diocese is being represented by a top legal jurist in the country and victims should make sure they have their own lawyer to protect their rights.

“You buy a house, you get a lawyer. You write your will, you get a lawyer/ You get a divorce, you get a lawyer. Are you going to do the most important thing in your life — as a victim, settle your claim against the perpetrator and institution that destroyed your life without a lawyer?” asked Talach.

‘For the archdiocese to suggest a process where we are going to get to learn who all the boogey men are, dead or alive, and then we’re going to dig a hole in the backyard and bury that information is outrageous.’—Robert Talach, lawyer

“It’s an insane concept. The bloody perpetrator gets a lawyer, why can’t the victims have one?”

There was a similar process in Bathurst last fall, involving Roman Catholic priests, said Talach. Once he and other lawyer got involved, the settlements for victims increased significantly, he said.

In addition, Talach contends the church only offered Bastarache’s services to hide embarrassing evidence.

“For the archdiocese to suggest a process where we are going to get to learn who all the boogey men are, dead or alive, and then we’re going to dig a hole in the backyard and bury that information is outrageous,” he said.

“These are monsters, there’s no better word. They are the real boogey man.”

A spokesperson for the archdiocese says hiring Bastarache will allow victims to come forward in private and save them from paying huge legal bills.

Norman Brun came forward recently to say that he was compensated fifteen years ago for abuse he suffered from Léger.

Other victims spoke out about the abuse for the first time when the community was debating whether Léger’s name should be removed from the village’s hockey arena. Léger’s name was taken off the arena in March.

Once the victims come forward to Bastarache, Langis said the diocese will have a better idea of what it will have to pay out.

“Our financial administrator is looking at different options. And he will come up with proposals and at that time we’ll start looking at that seriously and say, ‘This we can do, that we can’t do and so on and so forth,” he said.

The priest died in 1990 and was never convicted of any crimes.

‘Moral obligation to be generous’
The Diocese of Antigonish has recouped $2.1 million from selling properties, such as old parish halls to empty houses as of January. CBC The Diocese of Antigonish has recouped $2.1 million from selling properties, such as old parish halls to empty houses as of January. CBC

The situation being faced by the Archdiocese of Moncton is not unique, however.

Other churches have been forced to sell off assets to pay for compensation stemming from sexual abuse complaints.

For instance, the diocese of Antigonish, N.S., has sold many of its 400 properties in an effort to raise some of the $18 million it owes victims of sexual abuse.

As of January, the diocese had collected $2.1 million from selling properties, such as old parish halls and empty houses.

And there’s been a mixed reaction from parishioners in the community.

“There are many specific examples or cases, where the properties in question may be very important in the parish so that created some resentment. In general, I think, people know there is a moral obligation to be generous to the victims,” said Charles MacDonald, a parishioner in Sydney, N.S.
Decisions on hold

The church may need to look hard at the need to sell assets. Church incomes in southeastern New Brunswick have dropped considerably in recent years, according to Langis.

The Notre-Dames-de-l’Assomption Cathedral in Moncton needs $7 million to pay for repairs to keep the historic building open.The Notre-Dames-de-l’Assomption Cathedral in Moncton needs $7 million to pay for repairs to keep the historic building open. (CBC)

Roman Catholic churches have seen shrinking rates of attendance. Out of the 120,000 Catholics in the Moncton diocese, only about 20 per cent actually go to church regularly.

With the diocese in debt and its commitment to compensate victims in Cap-Pelé, other major projects, such as repairing the Notre-Dames-de-l’Assomption Cathedral are on hold.

“But until we have that figure. It’s going to be very difficult to take any decisions,” Langis said.

The Moncton diocese has a difficult decision on what to do with the historic Notre-Dames-de-l’Assomption Cathedral.

The church has not been able to find the $7 million it needs to keep the downtown Moncton cathedral open. It is also estimated another $3 million would be needed to be put into a trust fund for future repairs.

The cathedral was built in the 1940s and it is a fixture of the Moncton skyline.

When the cathedral was opened it served roughly 1,500 families, now only 300 use it as their church regularly.

Robert Pichette, a prominent Acadian author, said in his book on the cathedral that it has played an important part in the history of the Acadian people in Moncton.

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