Few attend funeral for priest who was a serial sex offender

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Montreal Gazette

Published on: April 10, 2016 | Last Updated: April 10, 2016 7:53 AM EDT

Jason Magder, Montreal Gazette

Only about a dozen people, gathered around John Edward Sullivan’s open casket Saturday afternoon in a small room on the second floor of the Magnus Poirier funeral complex on Sherbrooke St. E., near Langelier Blvd.

Standing at the door of the visitation room was a family member who told a journalist he was not welcome to speak to any of the well-wishers, and sternly asked the journalist to leave the funeral home. The priest officiating the funeral services declined to comment about Sullivan.

Sullivan, who died on Easter Sunday at age 90, is a convicted sex offender; his crimes dating back to the 1960s.

His obituary, which was published in the Montreal Gazette, said Sullivan “carried out his priestly ministry in various parishes throughout the Diocese until his appointment to the Matrimonial Tribunal.”

He was in the spotlight this past week, when the Sault Ste. Marie Diocese settled a lawsuit filed by a man who said the church covered up years of sexual abuse suffered at Sullivan’s hands, and moved him from parish to parish, knowing full well he had molested children.

Sullivan, who was ordained in 1958 was convicted in 1992 of molesting three brothers in the late 1960s while chaplain at Falconbridge Canadian Forces Base in Sudbury, Ont. According to documents filed at the Sudbury Superior Court, the sexual abuse started in the summer of 1968, when the brothers were age 12, 13 and 14. The abuse lasted for approximately a year.

He was convicted in 1990 of similar crimes against boys in several communities, including Sault Ste. Marie, Wawa and North Bay.

The victim, who was only identified in the lawsuit as P.J.J. was one of more than a dozen boys Sullivan was found guilty of sexually abusing in the early 1990s.

Sullivan had retired as a priest in 1989 and moved to Montreal to care for his sister.

His obituary painted him as a loving brother whose care allowed his sister Josephine “to live in the family home until she was 100 years old.”

P.J.J. was asking for $3 million in damages for the abuse he suffered at the hands of Sullivan when he was a 14-year-old altar boy. Now 62, P.J.J said he pursued the case to expose how the church continues to cover up abuse perpetrated by priests.

The lawsuit took five years, and just as it was going to trial, the church switched lawyers, meaning the trial would have been delayed for another year or so.

The two parties settled out of court, the Sudbury Star reported last Wednesday.

“My case really demonstrated the worst that can happen to a victim,” P.J.J. wrote in a statement. “They fought tooth and nail to prevent our success in delay tactics and dirty moves such as firing lawyers days before the trial. They also hired a private investigator to uncover stuff.

“I felt put down and demeaned at every turn in their moves. Not once did I hear an apology of words that they understood what I was going through or what I went through at the hands of that serial molester. And to find out that multiple bishops hid his abuse by moving him to new parishes where he continued his abuse of many dozens of innocent boys without telling the congregations is a huge injustice.”

The Sudbury Star reported the lawsuit stated the diocese was Sullivan’s employer at the time and had an obligation to protect its parishioners.

“Sullivan also owed a duty of care to the plaintiff by the nature of his position as a parish priest,” the suit stated.

The lawsuit alleged Sullivan used his position of “ecclesiastical authority” to develop a close and personal relationship with the plaintiff.

“Sullivan used his position as a parish priest of the Diocese, which was a position of authority, to develop a close personal relationship with the Plaintiff when he was young. The relationship that Sullivan developed with the Plaintiff, under the guise of a priest-practitioner relationship, allowed Sullivan an opportunity to be alone with the Plaintiff and to exert total control over him, prey upon him and sexually abuse him.”

The lawsuit alleged Sullivan molested P.J.J. and engaged in “in a pattern of behaviour which was intended to make the Plaintiff feel that he was special in the eyes of Sullivan, the Church and God.”

Although he will soon be buried, tales of Sullivan’s alleged abuse continue to be unearthed.

P.J.J.’s lawyer Robert Talach said while the P.J.J. lawsuit is now resolved, there are another five or six victims still seeking damages from Sullivan and the diocese.

He said the list continues to grow.

“There may be up to 20 (victims who could file lawsuits),” the lawyer said.

Talach said the victims are from all over Ontario, including Wawa, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Sudbury and Midland.

jmagder@postmedia.com

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