Press statement (at Lakeview Inn and Suites, Bathurst, New Brunswick)
August 3, 2012
Just over two and a half years ago the Acadian Peninsula was struggling to understand how one priest could have abused so many for so long. It was January 2010 when Father Levi Noel was convicted and sentenced for abusing 18 boys over a almost a quarter century (1958-1981). Many wondered if his employer, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bathurst had covered up his crimes, like we have now come to recognize as a longstanding and illicit practice of the Catholic Church hierarchy. In a region so rich with Catholic heritage no one here wanted to believe that cover-up was possible in their own backyard.
We are here today to tell you that cover-up was exactly what happened. Cover-up and a conspiracy of silence by the local clergy were the crucial factors which allowed Levi Noel to continue to abuse for decades. Had his colleagues and Bishops not covered for his crimes he would have been much shorter, the overall damage he did to this community and this church less.
Today we announce the commencement of 11 new lawsuits against the Diocese of Bathurst for its complicity in these crimes. This brings the total lawsuit count to 20. Twenty victims who have refused the pieces of silver offered to them through the Conciliation Process. Victims who want truth, prevention and accountability before compensation. Their silence is not for sale.
For them it is through the process of the civil courts that they hope for the Diocese’s full complicity in Levi Noel’s reign of terror to be exposed. We cannot prevent this tragedy from happening again in the future, if we do not hold accountable those individuals and institutions which allowed it to happen in the past.
Of the many cases and victims here today I wish to highlight one which demonstrates just how much this Diocese was prepared to pervert its own principles and integrity to cover up the crimes of one of their own.
Denis Theriault is a 69 year old man today but in the 1957 when he was only 13 years old he was sexually abused by Father Noel. To make Denis feel like he was at fault for what had happened, Noel ordered Denis to confess these sins but to not mention Noel’s name. Denis attended the next scheduled confessions as directed but during his confession he in fact told the priest that it was Father Noel who had sinned with him.
What would you and I expect a Roman Catholic priest to do with such information? Surely he would encourage the young and frightened Denis to tell his parents, or the police. Clearly he would want Denis to speak to him again outside of the confessional so the priest could report it to the Bishop. Did any of that happen? NO.
What did happen was that the priest, Father Stanislaw Robichaud, stepped from his seat, pulled Denis out of the confessional and slapped him so hard on the side of the head, Denis said he saw stars. Denis got the message; “don’t speak of this again”.
Denis kept silence until a summer party at a cottage in 1958. At the party there were teenage boys, alcohol, and Father Levi Noel. What some would now call a “recipe for disaster”. In the morning afterwards some of the boys talked about Father Levi Noel being touchy with them in the night. Denis realized that he was not the only victim. He decided to tell someone again. His mother was a faithful Catholic and he was concerned she would not believe him. He therefor shared his dilemma with his boss at the gas station where he worked part-time. His boss Andre Theriault thought the matter to be very serious and said he would inform Father Robichaud, the pastor of the parish.
Denis was not sure what would come of this since Father Robichaud had earlier shown little concern for the actions of Noel. Denis though was surprised to be approached shortly afterwards by Father Donat Albert of the neighbouring parish. He asked Denis if he would meet with the Bishop to discuss this. Andre volunteered to drive Denis and his cousin whom had been at the cottage party to attend the meeting with the Bishop. Andre had concerns that the Church was only out to silence the boys. His apprehensions proved to be accurate.
At the meeting with then the Bishop Camille Andre Leblanc that is exactly what happened. After being required to kneel and kiss the Bishop’s ring, both Denis and his cousin were ordered to place their hand on the Holy Bible and swear in front of the Bishop that they would never speak of this again, to anyone, ever. Both boys made the oath.
Later that same summer of 1958, the Diocese approached Denis’ mother in an effort to have Denis entered junior seminary and begin the path to the priesthood. Denis now fully disillusioned with the Church refused and broke his oath by telling his mother of the abuse. His mother, blinded by her own faith, told her son to never speak of that again as long as she lived.
Denis respected this mother’s wish for another two decades but then finally in the late 1970’s he talked of the abuse again. This time it was to Father Benoit Rioux the then pastor of the parish in Tracadie. Noel was now back in town and working in the same parish. Denis told Rioux of his hatred of Noel and the basis for it. He threatened that if he saw Noel in town he would run him over with his car. Rioux’s response? He threatened to call the police on Denis for making such threats against Noel. Though Rioux worked with Noel at the same parish Denis knows of no actions taken against Noel by anyone in the Diocese at that time. Noel would go onto abuse more boys until sa late 1981. Noel was not charged until almost another three decades after Denis spoke with Father Rioux.
Denis’ story highlights the complicity, cover-up and conspiracy which ran from as low as fellow parish priests to as high as the Bishop in a concentrated effort to conceal the crimes of their brother priest. What other reports were made to the Diocese and when? Surely there are more. The Diocese to date has failed to provide any investigative internal report on how this could have happened. What have they done instead? They have quietly asked the court to seal everything they have learned about their own corporate crimes. Frankly, this Diocese is unrepentant, unreformed and unaccountable.
These men, these victims here today, are about to change that. Letting this little piece of truth be know is just the beginning. Stay tuned for the rest, Thank you.