Church's plea of poverty a poor excuse, victims' lawyer says
By Harry Forestell
November 21, 2017
|The Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption is one of the churches in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Moncton affected by civil lawsuits launched by victims os sexual abuse by priests. |
|Rob Talach, who is representing 26 people suing the church for failing to protect them from sexual abuse, says he doesn't buy the church's claim it's running out of money. |
|Moncton Archbishop Valéry Vienneau has said he is very worried about the finances of the church. |
The lawyer acting for victims of pedophile priests in the Archdiocese of Moncton is dismissing claims the church is running out of money.
Rob Talach is representing 26 people suing the church for failing to protect them from sexual abuse, in most cases at the hands of the now-deceased Rev. Camille Leger.
Recently Archbishop Valéry Vienneault told CBC News the archdiocese had essentially run out of money to compensate victims. The church spent $10.6 million on 109 claims between 2012 and 2014.
"We had money — the diocese had money, but doesn't anymore," Vienneau said.
But Talach claims the Roman Catholic church has financial depth and points to its substantial real estate assets as one potential source of cash."We ran the properties that are held in the name of the Archdiocese of Moncton," he said. "There's 144. We then took the assessed value on the books of those 144 and it's roughly $29 million of assessed value."
As for the prospect of declaring bankruptcy in the face of more financial claims, Talach said that shouldn't be necessary.
"In basic bankruptcy law, your debts have to exceed your assets. The church doesn't have a lot of debts because these parishes are paid for, and the few properties that I understand that were leveraged or did have some debt were let go.
"Remember what they sell right? It's thin air and blessed water. They don't have debts to suppliers, they don't have huge labour costs. So to say they're near bankruptcy now with 60 lawsuits, the math doesn't get you there."
Talach pointed to other dioceses where sex scandals led to crippling payments to victims that were paid through fundraising among church members. Vienneault has suggested parishioners would not support a fundraising effort for the mistakes of priests in the past.
'A terrible indictment'
"That has to be a complete indictment of the state of the Catholic Church today," Talach said. "That the rank and file parishioner would not want to give to help someone whose life has been destroyed by their own clergy.
"If they're prepared to give to support a building or a political cause but not prepared to give to help their own — and these are their own parishioners, these are the children of their neighbours and their fellow parishioners in the pews — if that's true, that's quite an indictment of the rank and file Catholics.
"And I don't think he's right. I think he just doesn't want to try."
The church recently raised nearly $7 million to support restoration of the Assomption Cathedral in Moncton.
If all else fails,Talach said, there is always the possibility of appealing to the Vatican.
"The request should be made. I know from the circles that I swim in that the Vatican has bailed out some larger American dioceses in trouble. Specifically Los Angeles. That was a huge settlement and some Vatican money made it there."
In 2007 the Archdiocese of Los Angeles reached a settlement of more than $600 million with more than 500 claimants.
The Archdiocese is locked in a legal battle with its insurance company, the Cooperators, arguing it should be paying some of the damages to victims.
The Diocese of Bathurst is also suing its insurance company for the same reason. A judgment is expected Feb. 14, 2018.
Whatever the outcome,Talach said, the archdiocese has to come up with some options for his clients in case it loses the legal battle. Pleading poverty isn't good enough.
"There has to be some innovation and there has to be some effort," Talach said.
"I don't think putting all your cards on this insurance battle is safe management. You always in business have a contingency, or a Plan B, a backup. I just feel that the Archdiocese of Moncton's Plan B is prayer."