Papal envoy’s records sought in alleged B.C. priest sex abuse case

Coast Reporter [Sechelt, British Columbia, Canada]

March 30, 2022

By Jeremy Hainsworth

B.C. Supreme Court has been asked for an order to make the pope’s representative to Canada hand over records related to alleged sexual abuse at a seminary school.

A man who alleges he was sexually abused by Mission Roman Catholic priests and a seminary employee wants the pope’s envoy to Canada to hand over documents related to the case.

Mark O’Neill is seeking damages for sexual abuse he alleges he suffered as a teen during his time at a Mission Roman Catholic seminary from 1974 to 1978. He was age 13 to 17 at the time.

The defendants listed in the suit are: Seminary of Christ the King; Westminster Abbey Ltd.; the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver, a Corporation Sole; Emerick Lazar; Harold Vincent Sander a.k.a. Dom Placidus Sander; Shawn Rohrbach and John Doe.

In a March 25 application to B.C. Supreme Court, O’Neill and lawyer Sandra Kovacs seek an order that Rev. Ian Jurkovic, the Apostolic Papal Nuncio to Canada, hand over multiple records.

Those include:

  • correspondence between the seminary, the abbey, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver and the papal nuncio about sexual misconduct at the seminary;
  • speaking notes from meetings attended by the nuncio where sexual misconduct has been addressed;
  • investigation records arising from a May 1987 anonymous letter to the nuncio from seminarians; and
  • investigation records about sexual misconduct at the seminary.

The 1987 letter to then-Abbot Eugene Medved alleged Father Placidus was involved in homosexual relationships with high school seminarians.

The application said the letter “was presumably never disclosed to police. “A gross miscarriage of justice resulted, causing serious further harm” to O’Neill and another man who has filed suit against the defendants, the application said.

O’Neill alleges Rohrbach, a college student employed at the seminary, sexually abused him while he was a student. He alleges Rohrbach performed oral sex on him and that he pestered younger boys in a shower room.

O’Neill alleges Lazar, a priest, broke his arm. Sander, also a priest, then allegedly delayed access to medical treatment to conceal the fracture. Sander died in 2021, according to the suit.

The new application also wants any correspondence or documents in the papal nuncio’s possession relating to criminal proceedings against Sander.

The potential for the nuncio to be covered by diplomatic immunity does exist. The application suggests such immunity “should not be permitted to undermine the truth-seeking process.”

As an alternative, the application seeks an order that the defendants grant the nuncio authority to hand over the requested records.

The claim alleges the defendants were systematically negligent and had “complicity in a culture of entrenched clericalism and distorted beliefs that implicitly promoted the psychosexual immaturity of priests and seminarians, perpetuating sexually deviant behaviour.”

The application also seeks documents from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kamloops related to Rohrbach.

O’Neill has already successfully applied to the court to have former Vancouver Roman Catholic Archbishop Adam Exner appear for discovery. In agreeing to the request, the consenting judge set rules to assist Exner due to his age. The retired cleric is now 93.

O’Neill alleges the office of the archbishop negligently failed to mitigate known risks posed by the other defendants and is vicariously liable for their conduct.

O’Neill is also seeking an order for Rohrbach to appear for discovery hearings in the case.