Vancouver Archdiocese Says It Informed N.Y. Diocese of Priest’s History of Sex Abuse Allegations
By Gordon Hoekstra
December 14, 2012
|Former Vancouver priest Damian Cooper, shown in 1991, left for New York in 1995 after a woman accused him of sexual abuse. He was later terminated from a New York diocese where he had worked for six years.|
A priest removed from his duties in Vancouver over accusations of sexual abuse in the 1980s was terminated from a New York diocese for “problems of a similar nature” in 2001.
The priest, Lawrence Dean Cooper, also known as Damian Cooper, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Vancouver were named in a civil suit filed in B.C. Supreme Court Thursday by a B.C. woman.
Kathleen Taylor said in her suit that she first met Cooper in 1985 as a 15-year-old, and a relationship developed that led to him taking her to motels for sex by the time she was 17. She said she broke off the relationship in 1992, and in 1994 told the church about the abuse.
The Vancouver archdiocese does not dispute the general claims, and said it took “every necessary step” to remove the priest from ministry and to ensure when he moved, the jurisdiction he went to knew about his background.
Vancouver archdiocese spokesman Paul Schratz said Cooper was immediately removed from his priest duties — called being removed from ministry — after the archdiocese learned of his “affair” with the woman.
It was recommended Cooper be supervised for five years while receiving ongoing counselling, said Schratz. After about six months, in February 1995, Cooper asked to be allowed to resume his priestly duties with the Vancouver diocese, which was denied.
He then went to New York so he could receive more professional help, Schratz said Friday.
The Diocese of Rockville Center accepted him in April 1995 on “something of a probationary basis.”
The Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York did not respond to requests by The Vancouver Sun for information on Cooper’s six-year tenure there.
But Schratz said in an email Friday:“We were told in 2001 that Rockville Center was terminating his ministry as problems of a similar nature had arisen there.” Schratz would not provide details on what “problems of a similar nature” meant, but said it did not involve underage women.
The Vancouver archdiocese’s account Friday of the disciplinary action against Cooper differed from Thursday’s.
On Thursday, it said removing him from being able to minister meant he was unable to be a priest anywhere in the world. It also said it would be impossible to alert every diocese of Vancouver’s discipline, and the onus was on any diocese to check his record at Vancouver, where he was ordained.
On Thursday, Schratz said there was no record that the Rockville diocese checked back with Vancouver about Cooper’s record.
But on Friday, he said: “I just learned today that we fully informed the Diocese of Rockville Centre of (Father) Cooper’s history. It seems they may have had some optimism that he could be treated successfully.”
According to the Vancouver archdiocese, Cooper went to the Parish of St. Hugh of Lincoln in Huntington Station, N.Y., in 1995.
Cooper then served as an associate pastor in the Diocese of Rockville Center for almost six years and was assigned to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lindenhurst, N.Y. before being let go, says the Vancouver archdiocese.
An Our Lady of Perpetual Help church bulletin from May 2011 available on the Internet lists Rev. Damian Cooper as a former priest.
In the civil notice of claim filed in Vancouver, Taylor said her first contact with Cooper was when he was acting as chaplain at Camp Latona on Gambier Island, when she was attending a leadership retreat as a 15-year-old. Cooper was about 27 years old at the time.
The priest kept contact with Taylor and started having sex with her when she was 17 in early 1987, according to the court documents.
In 1992, Taylor broke off contact with Cooper, says the notice of claim.
During Cooper’s eight-year tenure in the Vancouver archdiocese, he was a pastor at St. Joseph’s in Squamish and at St. Jude’s in Vancouver.
Tom Doyle, a U.S. priest and expert on canon law, said that when a diocese removes a priest from ministry it is not a clear-cut way of ensuring that a priest cannot perform his duties elsewhere, as it is still possible for another diocese to accept him.
The only way to ensure a priest can no longer be a priest is through laicization, said Doyle, a former Vatican representative who is an outspoken critic of how the church has dealt with sex-abuse cases.
Laicization — known commonly as defrocking — is a process that permanently removes a priest’s right to be a minister. It must be approved by the Vatican in Rome.
“I’ve been involved in this kind of stuff for 30 years, and the level of irresponsibility of the bishops is higher than you can count,” observed Doyle.
After Cooper’s termination in New York in 2001, the Archdiocese of Vancouver said it recommended Cooper request laicization.
The archdiocese did not respond to questions on whether Cooper agreed to the laicization or why the Vancouver archdiocese did not request it.
The Rockville Center diocese that Cooper ended up at after his Vancouver tenure was the subject of a Suffolk County Supreme Court special grand jury in 2002.
The grand jury concluded that priests assigned to and working in the Rockville diocese committed criminal acts of sexual abuse against children.
The jury also concluded that the history of the Rockville diocese demonstrated that as an institution, it is incapable of properly handling issues relating to sexual abuse of children by priests.