Woman Seeks Damages for Alleged Sexual Abuse by Vancouver Priest
By Gordon Hoekstra
December 13, 2012
|Vancouver's Holy Rosary Cathedral. A B.C. woman filed a civil suit Thursday in Vancouver seeking damages for alleged sexual abuse by a priest when she was a teenager in the 1980s. Both the priest, Lawrence Dean Cooper, also known as Father Damian, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver are named in the notice of claim.|
A B.C. woman filed a civil suit Thursday in Vancouver seeking damages for alleged sexual abuse by a priest when she was a teenager in the 1980s.
Both the priest, Lawrence Dean Cooper, also known as Father Damian, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver are named in the notice of claim.
The Vancouver archdiocese does not dispute the woman’s general claims, and said Thursday the church “regrets how she was drawn into a sexual relationship with the priest.”
Vancouver archdiocese spokesman Paul Schratz said Cooper was “removed from the ministry” after the woman disclosed the abuse in 1994. Schratz said this meant he was not able to work as a priest anywhere in the world. However, Schratz said, Cooper went on to work for years as an associate pastor at the New York Diocese of Rockville Centre.
In the notice of claim, Kathleen Taylor says she first met Cooper in 1985 as a 15-year-old when he was acting as chaplain at Camp Latona on Gambier Island, when she was attending a leadership retreat.
She started seeing the priest, who was ordained in 1986, for counselling as a 16-year-old Grade 11 student after school at the Roman Catholic Cathedral offices next to Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver.
Soon afterwards, he was giving her “prolonged embraces” after the counselling sessions.
Then Cooper began driving her home and having long talks with her. By 1987, when she was 17, he was taking her to motels and having sex with her, according to her notice of claim.
In 1992, Taylor broke off contact with Cooper, according to the court documents.
Taylor is seeking damages for sexual exploitation and/or sexual assaults because she says she has suffered psychological damage.
She is seeking general, aggravated, punitive and special damages, as well as loss of past and future earnings.
In an interview, Taylor said that when she came forward with her story to the Vancouver archdiocese in 1994, she did not go to the police because she trusted the church and then-archbishop Adam Exner to ensure Cooper would not be in a position to abuse other girls.
She said she has come forward with her story now because she is finally comfortable to go public with it. She chose a civil suit rather than going to the police because, she said, she feels she has more control in a civil proceeding.
“I was afraid to tell my story. I was carrying a shame,” said Taylor. “So, part of what I’m trying to do by sharing my story is to put that shame back to the church’s leaders where it belongs.”
Schratz, the Vancouver Catholic archdiocese spokesman, said while the church does not agree with every detail of Taylor’s interpretation of the events, it agrees she was wronged by the priest.
“I can say without any hesitation that what happened to Miss Taylor was absolutely tragic. And that we obviously deeply regret how she was drawn into a sexual relationship with the priest,” said Schratz.
“By any definition it’s wrong, it’s hurtful. And so we obviously extend our deepest apologies to her and her family, recognizing that may seem woefully inadequate.”
Now, the church will go to court to try to resolve what is the appropriate compensation for Taylor, said Schratz.
Although all the details are not clear because it was 18 years ago that the abuse was reported, Schratz said the church took steps to ensure Cooper could do no more harm, including counselling and removing him from being a priest.
However, Schratz said that after Cooper’s eight-year tenure at the Vancouver archdiocese, he went to the Parish of St. Hugh of Lincoln in Huntington Station, N.Y., in 1995. The Vancouver archdiocese had nothing to do with him going there, Schratz said.
Cooper then served as an associate pastor in the Diocese of Rockville Centre for almost six years and was assigned to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lindenhurst, N.Y. before being let go, said Schratz.
It’s not clear exactly what Cooper’s duties were in New York, but Schratz said an associate pastor is normally a priest.
There’s no record the New York diocese checked back with the Vancouver archdiocese about Cooper’s record, which would have shown he could not be a priest, said Schratz.
Cooper is believed to be living in the U.S., but Schratz did not know where.
When Taylor approached the church in 1994, she was provided with funding for counselling and living costs while she pursued a postgraduate degree in the U.S., noted Schratz. (Taylor acknowledged the church paid for counselling for a period, but declined to discuss the funding in detail because of the civil suit.)
Schratz said the church did not go to police with Taylor’s claim of sexual abuse out of respect for her privacy.
He noted that when Taylor came forward, she was an adult and was accompanied by her brother, a lawyer.
“The practice at the time would have been to advise her if she wished to bring the matter to the police she was absolutely free to do so,” he said.
Cooper served in various capacities in the Vancouver archdiocese, including as pastor at St. Joseph’s in Squamish and at St. Jude’s in Vancouver.
Exner, who was Vancouver’s archbishop when Cooper was removed from being a priest, had been asked in 1992 to develop a national church protocol for dealing with sex abuse issues.
Under guidelines his committee developed, Exner said at the time that Canadian Catholic Church officials concluded they must “fully cooperate” with police when they receive sex allegations against clergy.