Alleged abuse victims file $5m suit

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Ex-Yarmouth priest Albert LeBlanc, church named in action

The Halifax Chronicle Herald

29 February 2012 – 4:30am

By SELENA ROSS 

Three men who have accused former Yarmouth priest Albert LeBlanc of abuse are seeking more than $5 million in damages, according to court documents filed Monday.

LeBlanc, now 82, already faces more than 50 sex-related charges from abuse that allegedly took place in the 1970s and ’80s. He will face those charges in a weeklong trial scheduled for May.

When the criminal charges have been resolved, a smaller group of plaintiffs will turn their attention to the civil claims filed this week in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax. LeBlanc, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax and the Diocese of Yarmouth are named in the lawsuits.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Marilyn Sweet said Tuesday she couldn’t comment on any aspect of the cases involving LeBlanc.

The plaintiffs list nervous shock, degradation, depression, an inability to have intimate relationships, lack of income and time off work due to emotional trauma among the painful after-effects of the alleged abuse.

Two of the three noted having had suicidal thoughts, and two mentioned alcohol or drug abuse. All claim to have suffered impairment in their education and work lives.

“The plaintiff has suffered a tremendous loss of enjoyment of life and ongoing pain and suffering,” the documents say about one of the alleged victims.

“His ability to carry on a normal life has been extinguished or impaired.”

In each case, the alleged abuse took place over the course of several years, starting when two of the men were about 10 years old. The third alleged victim said in court documents that LeBlanc began to abuse him when he was about seven, and the assaults continued for eight years.

The matter is unusual in that the alleged victims are seeking to hold church bodies liable for abuse that happened even after LeBlanc left the priesthood in 1975 to become a probation officer.

Sweet has said that LeBlanc was not asked to step down.

LeBlanc stayed active for years in the community where he had served as religious leader, often taking boys on trips to watch sports events.

He served in two Yarmouth churches, St. Ambrose Cathedral and Notre Dame de Fatima.

The abuse of two of the alleged victims took place in the early ’80s, several years after LeBlanc stepped out of a church role. But court documents say LeBlanc used the position of trust he had built with local families while a priest to continue the alleged abuse.

Church officials had an obligation to investigate allegations of abuse against LeBlanc while he served, publicly remove him from his church duties and warn community members about the risk of abuse, claim court documents.

The church received complaints about LeBlanc during his time there, the plaintiffs say.

“The knowledge that Father LeBlanc was being inappropriate with boys was well-known . . . and could be described as an ‘open secret,’ ” according to the documents, as was “the fact that Father LeBlanc was taking young males on trips, including overnight trips, where young males would visit him, sleep in the same bed with him and generally accompany him.”

In court, the case will centre on the bond the alleged victims’ families had with LeBlanc, said lawyer Aaron Lealess of the London, Ont., law firm Ledroit Beckett.

“We’ll look at the level of trust and respect for the priest as he continued after the priesthood,” said Lealess.

A fourth civil plaintiff filed a few months ago, he said.

There are more than four plaintiffs in the criminal case against LeBlanc. The four civil plaintiffs and the archdiocese have agreed to hold off on their case to avoid interfering with the criminal trial, Lealess said.

“It’s a lot for victims of abuse to go through. It can be time-consuming and difficult, and doing them at once can be too much all at one time.”

( sross@herald.ca)

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