Monday, January 28, 2008

Additional civil lawsuits coming against diocese

A lawyer representing several plaintiffs in lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie is calling on Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe to follow the lead of colleagues in other parts of Ontario.

Robert Talach says there are examples Plouffe can look to of how to deal fairly with people who claim they were sexually abused as children by priests.

Talach will hold a news conference Monday in Sudbury to announce seven more civil lawsuits by men and women alleging sexual misconduct by six Roman Catholic priests. All but one of the priests is dead. Five of the priests served at churches in the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie.

Dioceses led by Bishop Ronald Fabbro of London and Bishop Michael Mulhall of Pembroke have committees and policies in place relating to sexual abuse of parishioners by their clergy.

Both have also offered public apologies on behalf of their dioceses to victims of their clergy whom the courts have convicted of sexually abusing.

"That's all encouraging to see," said Talach in a telephone interview from his London-based law firm this week.

But he said he still "encounters the old school" where people don't believe people claiming to be abused or where church officials ignore abuse that has taken place.

Talach said in at least one of the new lawsuits to be announced Monday, the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie was notified immediately after an alleged incident of sexual misconduct and the bishop was brought into those discussions.

That incident occurred decades ago, and Plouffe was not bishop of the diocese at that time.

Talach's law firm is currently handling at least 10 separate lawsuits against the Sault Ste. Marie diocese for allegations of sexual abuse by its clergy.

Unlike London and Pembroke dioceses, Sault Ste. Marie does not seem to have policies regarding sexual abuse or, if it does, they are not to be found on its website.

The Sudbury Star made two attempts to reach someone at Sault Ste. Marie diocese for comment about the recent lawsuits. The diocese receptionist said Friday that Plouffe was out of town and there was no other spokesman for the diocese.

Plouffe issued a statement read in churches within his diocese almost a year ago when three, $4.5-million lawsuits against Sault Ste. Marie priests were announced.

"I am deeply saddened by this news," said the bishop.

"These situations do not leave me indifferent. They are most sensitive and painful for all involved and have an impact on the whole diocese. We will do what is necessary and within our power to see that light be shed on these allegations."

London diocese offers counselling, without prejudice, to people alleging sexual misconduct against priests before the cases are handled in court.

Talach says the fact his law firm is handling so many cases against several former Sault Ste. Marie diocese priests "is not coincidence. It's pretty corroborating."

It's difficult to fake being a victim of sexual abuse, says Talach. "You would have to start when you were 11. You'd have to intentionally fail Grade 7. You would have to intentionally have your grades plummet. You would have to drop out of high school.

"You'd have to get a drug addiction, you'd have to have some criminal run-ins. You'd have to have three divorces, physical ailments related to stress and nausea.

"You'd have to be a mastermind to fake a case of sex abuse."

The news conference to announce the lawsuits will be held Monday at 10:30 a.m. at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Sudbury.
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