17 March 2014
A judge in Quebec City heard closing arguments today in a class-action lawsuit that alleges sexual abuse by members of the clergy.
It marks the final stage in the province’s first ever class-action lawsuit over sexual abuse by priests to go to trial. Until now, all other cases had been settled out of court.
Lawyers representing more than a dozen men who attended Séminaire Saint-Alphonse, a private boarding school in Saint-Anne-de-Beaupré near Quebec City, alleged there was systemic abuse and a cover-up at the school.
Serge Létourneau, a lawyer in the case, said that two of the alleged abusers were once principals at the school and also sat on the provincial executive committee of the Redemptorist Order.
During the trial, 12 men testified about being molested regularly in their youth during the 70s and 80s.
The alleged victims said the abuse happened in their dorm rooms — which were situated within a house where five priests stayed — and at a chalet the Redemptorist Order owned.
Lawyers for the former Saint-Alphonse students say it’s often difficult to go after individual priests for compensation because they all make a vow of poverty.
However in this case lawyers said that the Redemptorist Order, which ran the school for almost a century, is in control of lucrative real estate — the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica and pilgrimage site.
Carlo Tarini, a spokesman for the Quebec Association of Victims of Priests, said he believes the Order should be held responsible.
“These children were abused, according to the lawyers, in a very systematic way … There were no procedures to protect the children.”
The suit alleges that at least 10 priests abused more than a dozen boys over three decades.
One of the priests, Father Raymond-Marie Lavoie, pleaded guilty and is serving a five-year sentence.
Another priest is awaiting trial.