“Insurance firm demands London diocese return $10M in sex abuse payouts” & related article

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An insurance company is demanding the return of $10 million in sex abuse settlements paid to the London diocese, claiming the church exposed it to increased risk by hiding the actions of several pedophile priests.

The Windsor Star

Published on: February 20, 2018 | Last Updated: February 20, 2018 8:43 AM EST
Trevor Wilhelm

An insurance company is demanding the return of $10 million in sex abuse settlements paid to the London diocese, claiming the Catholic church exposed it to increased risk by hiding the actions of several pedophile priests.

AXA Insurance Canada is claiming the Diocese of London misled the company and its predecessor, Great American, by moving former priests — including Charles Sylvestre and John Harper — from parish to parish for decades to hide their misdeeds.

According to a 2016 Superior Court document in which the judge ruled against having a jury trial in the case, AXA states it would not have insured the diocese if it was aware of the priests’ backgrounds.

“If the Diocese had disclosed the information it had concerning Sylvestre and Harper, Great American would have refused to provide a policy of insurance or any renewal, would have refused to insure against liability arising from assault and battery, would have included appropriate exclusions, and/or would have increased the quantum of the premium charged given that this information dramatically affected the risk,” the document says.

The court battle began in 2008 when the diocese sued AXA for acting in “bad faith” by refusing pay settlements totalling $874,000 in two sex abuse lawsuits involving Harper. AXA responded by countersuing for the $10 million the company and its predecessors had paid the diocese to settle previous lawsuits launched by sex abuse victims.

A lawyer for AXA couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday.

“Because it’s an active court case, we can’t comment,” said diocese spokesman Nelson Couto.

None of the allegations in the document have been proven in court.

The fight over insurance coverage focuses on a few of the more than 20 London diocese priests who have been convicted, charged or sued for sex crimes against children.

Among the most notorious was Sylvestre, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to sexually assaulting 47 young girls over more than three decades in Chatham, Pain Court, Sarnia, London and Windsor. He died in prison at age 84 after serving less than four months of his three-year sentence.

Harper, who was convicted in 1988 and again in 2003 of sexually abusing young boys, liked to take his victims on weekend getaways to his parents’ Windsor home.

The court battle over insurance coverage centres around a policy that the diocese says it was protected by between 1963 and 1971. The diocese claims in the 2016 court document that Great American provided it coverage for bodily injury claims from May 1, 1963 to May 1, 1971. That included “assault and battery by a person, arising out of or in the course of his duties as an employee.” The policy had a limit of $1 million for any one occurrence.

AXA states in the court document that no Great American insurance policy has ever been found for any diocese except the one in Sault Ste. Marie.

But if a policy did exist, AXA claims it is void because of “material misrepresentation and/or non-disclosure” from the diocese. According to the document, AXA alleges the diocese “dealt with the allegations of sexual assault by these priests in secrecy as required by Canon Law.”

AXA states that the diocese had evidence that Sylvestre was sexually abusing little girls by at least 1962 — before the Great American insurance policy would have been issued.

After the disgraced priest’s guilty pleas in 2006, Bishop Ronald Fabbro revealed his assistant had found copies of statements three victims made to Sarnia police in 1962. Fabbro said the statements were discovered in the back of a filing cabinet full of accounting documents at the diocese office in London.

AXA claims the diocese was also aware by 1964 that children had made similar sexual assault allegations against Harper, who was sent for psychiatric treatment.

“The sexual assaults by Sylvestre and Harper, and the subsequent placement of these priests into positions of trust and authority in relation to children was information material to the risk allegedly insured by Great American,” AXA claims in the court document.

“The Diocese failed to disclose that information to Great American at the time the Diocese allegedly applied for and obtained insurance coverage and renewals.”

twilhelm@postmedia.com

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Insurance Business Canada

AXA Insurance seeks return of $10 million payouts after pedophile priests scandal

AXA Insurance Canada is seeking the return of $10 million in sex abuse settlements paid to the Roman Catholic diocese of London, Ontario, saying the church covered up the actions of several pedophile priests for decades, thus exposing the insurer to heightened risk.

In a 2016 Superior Court document, the insurer (now owned by Intact Financial Corp.) claimed the diocese hid the sex predators and their misdeeds by moving them through different parishes and duties. AXA said it would not have insured the diocese if it was aware of the church’s misleading tactics, according to TheStar.com.

The insurer cited five infamous cases to prove its point, including the case of notorious sex offender Charles Sylvestre, who admitted sexually assaulting 47 girls over four decades while working as a priest in the diocese.

“The diocese of London, consistent with the policies and practices of the Roman Catholic church more broadly, engaged in a practice of concealing reports of child sexual abuse by members of the diocese’s clergy, and then assigning the priests in question to different parishes in the diocese, thereby providing the priests with further opportunity to commit sexual assaults upon children within the new parish,” AXA’s court document reads.

It continues: “If the diocese had disclosed the information it had concerning Sylvestre and [John] Harper, Great American [AXA’s predecessor] would have refused to provide a policy of insurance or any renewal, would have refused to insure against liability arising from assault and battery, would have included appropriate exclusions, and/or would have increased the quantum of the premium charged given that this information dramatically affected the risk.”

The battle between AXA and the London diocese has been ongoing since 2008, when the diocese sued AXA for breach of contract. It claims the insurer’s predecessor Great American provided the diocese coverage for bodily injury claims from 1963 to 1971, but that it refused to pay settlements totalling $874,000 in two sex abuse lawsuits involving John Harper.

According to the AXA court document, the insurer claims no Great American insurance policy has ever been found for the London diocese. AXA also alleges that if a policy did exist, any claims would be void because of “material misrepresentation and/or non-disclosure” from the diocese, which it claims, “dealt with the allegations of sexual assault by these priests in secrecy as required by Canon Law.”

The insurer says the diocese knew Sylvestre was sexually abusing little girls by at least 1962, which would have been before the Great American insurance policy was allegedly issued.

“Sexual assaults by Sylvestre and Harper, and the subsequent placement of these priests into positions of trust and authority in relation to children was information material to the risk allegedly insured by Great American,” AXA says in the court document. “The diocese failed to disclose that information to Great American at the time the diocese allegedly applied for and obtained insurance coverage and renewals.”

AXA is countersuing the London dioceses for the $10 million paid to settle previous lawsuits launched by sex abuse victims. The case remains active.

8 Responses to “Insurance firm demands London diocese return $10M in sex abuse payouts” & related article

  1. BC says:

    One of the objectives of torts is to spread liability among a maximum number of entities and torts are designed to answer -yes- to God`s question in Genesis 4:9. Clearly the Diocese of London doesn`t believe that it is it`s brother`s keeper despite all of it`s charitable fundraising to the contrary. It`s real answer – not the one it fundraises charitably – to the need to care for vulnerable persons is:- we`ve got insurance for that… don`t bother us… deal with our lawyers… go away… no comment… f**k off… Nobody likes Big Insurance. Certainly not me. But Big Insurance owes duties to it`s shareholders and clients to maximize profits and duly cover insured risks. And if it doesn`t do that all the bets are gonna be off. All of ’em. So any institution such as the Roman Catholic Church, which cluster f**ks itself to the point where Big Insurance turns out to be the good guy deserves to go down in history. And remain at the very bottom of it not to resurface again.

  2. BC says:

    Fair enough! Your blog; your rules.
    When in Rome… indeed.

  3. Baspuits says:

    Wondering out loud about the diocese of Bathurst vs Aviva insurance:
    Let’s say the diocese of Bathurst is insured by Aviva ( let’s say the diocese won it’s appeal )
    Now if reconciliation prosess of Bastarache met and paid off victims of pedophiles priest who are living, either retired or in hiding, would the victims have to lay charges, before insurance reemburce the diocese?

    Any body care to answer? Remember that Bastarache promised of being indipendent, no body will know you came forward !!!

    Baspuits

    • BC says:

      RE: the victims have to lay charges before insurance reimburse the diocese?
      If you are talking about criminal charges; no. In Canada only the Crown may lay criminal charges. Any person can arrest another person… but it`s much wiser and prudent to let law enforcement do the investigating and arresting.

      RE: would the victims have to lay charges before insurance reimburse the diocese?
      A victim would instigate a civil action against the Diocese which would in turn notify it`s civil liability insurer and the insurer`s litigators would handle the matter from there.

      I was against the Bastarache process. And I whish to add that it was the only instance that I can think of when a settlement did not appear to me to be a better option than litigation.

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