Winnipeg Free Press
06 July 2016 Posted: 07/6/2016 6:37 PM
A 22-year-old Winnipeg man is suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Boniface, the priest who sexually abused him and the religious order Clercs de Saint-Viateur du Canada for $2.1 million in damages.
Rev. Ronald Leger, former pastor of Holy Family Parish on Archibald Street, was convicted of sexually assaulting the young man when he was a boy as well as two other boys and sentenced in February to two years in jail.
The statement of claim filed for the victim, known only by his initials, says the archdiocese “took no steps to stop the behaviour or to protect the plaintiff and, instead, took steps to attempt to cover up the behaviour.” It said the the conduct of the order and the archdiocese was “harsh, high-handed and malicious” and needs to be punished. Instead of reacting appropriately to Leger’s sexual misconduct, “it transferred him to new postings where further unsuspecting victims awaited.” It claims they “consciously and deliberately” suppressed information about Leger’s sexual misconduct in an effort to protect the reputation of the order and the archdiocese. They promoted a culture of secrecy with respect to sexual misconduct of clergy to benefit the order and the archdiocese rather than stop the misconduct or help the victims, it said. They failed to contact the plaintiff’s parents and police when they learned about Leger’s actions, the statement of claim alleges.
The archdiocese still hasn’t helped the victim, it said. “It has failed, to this day, to investigate the extent of Leger’s past behaviour and has failed to render any assistance to the plaintiff, contrary to its own internal policies and the policies of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.”
The young man has suffered suicidal thoughts, anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder shame, guilt and feelings of worthlessness, it said. He was deprived of a normal adolescence and his ability to develop normal relationships was impaired. He hasn’t been able to live up to his abilities and aptitude in school or work because of the emotional trauma he suffered, it said. He had to go for medical treatment and still receives psychological counselling.
The abuse started in 2004 when the boy was about 12 and, for two years after, Leger repeatedly sexually abused, assaulted and molested him, the court filing said.
The priest hugged him and fondled him over his clothing, including his genitals, it said. Leger exposed his naked body to the boy and engaged in other sexual activities, the statement of claim said. Leger used his position of authority and trust to ensure the boy kept it a secret and didn’t tell anyone about the behaviour that occurred on a regular basis “increasing in frequency, nature and intensity as it progressed,” it said.
Leger had a priest-parishioner relationship with the boy’s family and had known him since he was a toddler, the statement of claim said. Leger provided religious counselling and mentored him as a child and later, as a teenager, provided him with “spiritual guidance.” The archdiocese taught the boy and other Catholics that “priests are the chosen representatives on Earth of God and have special powers, and that priests are to be viewed with special reverence, power, respect, honour and authority,” the statement of claim said. The archdiocese employed Leger to carry out those teachings and provided him with the opportunity and means to come into contact with his young victim on diocese property, the court filing said. Leger used such ideologies and rules to manipulate his victim, it said. He used his position of trust as a priest of the archdiocese and the religious order to develop a close, personal relationship with him, it said. It allowed Leger to be alone with him and “to exert total control over him, prey upon him and sexually abuse him.”
If the archdiocese didn’t know about the abuse of the plaintiff, it ought to have, the statement of claim said. It pointed to Leger’s difficulties as a seminarian and with alcohol and his sexuality, as well as the concerns of other clergy, parishioners and students. Parents and others at Leger’s previous parish postings or schools had complained about his actions with young people, the statement of claim said.
The archdiocese, it said, was negligent for failing “to recognize that a certain percentage of priests would become sexually deviant and would make sexual advances to children and young people.” It said the archdiocese didn’t properly investigate Leger’s background, character and psychological state when it accepted him to serve in St. Boniface then failed to document, discipline or expel Leger for his “shortcomings.” It failed to follow its own internal policies in allowing him to serve and didn’t warn his immediate supervisors, parishioners, students and others who may come into contact with him of Leger’s “difficulties.” The archdiocese had no proper system of self-self reporting or “other-reporting” or counselling in place for priests who engage in such deviant behaviour, the claim alleges.
In fact, it said the archdiocese “fostered a system based on the rules, principles and ideologies of the church, in particular the rule that priests have absolute authority” so that “the reporting of such deviant sexual behaviour of a priest by its members would be considered to be ‘wrong'” The statement of claim said the archdiocese “implemented and maintained a system that was designed to cover up the existence of such behaviour if such behaviour was ever reported.” It failed to protect the plaintiff from Leger when it knew or ought to have known that he was vulnerable to the attentions and influence of the priest, it said.
The Archbishop of St. Boniface, Rev. Albert LeGatt, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Read more by Carol Sanders.