Moncton archdiocese, insurer reach settlement in lawsuit over sex abuse compensation

CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) [Toronto, Canada]

September 20, 2022

By Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon

Funds will be used to pay claims for assaults by priests between 1955 and 1984, archbishop says

The Catholic Archdiocese of Moncton has reached a settlement in a multimillion dollar lawsuit against its insurance company regarding compensation paid to victims of sexual abuse by priests.

Although the details of the agreement with the Co-operators General Insurance Company are subject to a confidentiality clause, the resulting funds will be used to pay claims for sexual assaults that occurred in the archdiocese between 1955 and 1984, according to a statement issued by Archbishop Valéry Vienneau.

“The settlement made does involve some compromise, but it provides immediate certainty, particularly in light of advice that the pending court hearing would be put over for another year due to a shortage of judges,” he said.

The case had been scheduled for trial in October.

The archdiocese confirmed it resolved a dispute with the Co-operators over the insurer’s liability coverage of the archdiocese between 1977 and 1999, following two days of mediation in the Court of King’s Bench.

“The certainty of resolution now will soon allow us to bring compensation and closure to victims and allow our archdiocese to again devote its full attention to service to our parishioners and those reliant upon archdiocesan services,” Vienneau said.

“We regret all the injury caused to the victims and acknowledge their patience.”

The Co-operators declined to comment.

Diocese argued policy covered ‘bodily injury’

The archdiocese filed the lawsuit in 2013 to recoup $4.2 million it had paid out to victims of sexual abuse.

Court documents obtained by CBC News revealed the diocese had paid a total of $10.6 million to 109 victims through a confidential compensation process run by former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache. It’s estimated victims were each awarded between $15,000 and $300,000, depending on the severity of the abuse, how old they were when it started, and how many years it lasted.

The diocese claimed $4.2 million of that fell within 1977 to 1999, when the church had an insurance policy with the Co-operators that included coverage for “bodily injury caused intentionally by … the archdiocese.”

But the Co-operators argued the diocese committed an intentional act when it failed to supervise and discipline members of the clergy who committed the abuses, and that it failed in its obligation to tell the insurance company as soon as it became aware of the abuse.

The archdiocese has already funded settlements arising out of the Bastarache process, said Vienneau.

“Over the next several months,” it will use the insurance funds coupled with available archdiocesan funds to pay remaining claims, “most of which had been settled subject to the outcome of the lawsuit against Co-Operators.”

No other details will be released, he said.

Lawyer Robert Talach, who represents some of the victims, said it’s “positive” an agreement has finally been reached after nearly a decade, but waiting another several months for compensation is “inadequate.”

“It should be coming weeks,” he said, noting some of the victims reached tentative settlements nearly eight years ago.

“There should not be a victim or survivor of clergy abuse in the archdiocese of Moncton that is not compensated by Christmas Day this year. So let’s sharpen our pencils and let’s get to work,” said Talach, who leads the sexual abuse department for the London, Ont.-based Beckett Personal Injury Lawyers.

“They’ve got the funds now, apparently, so there should be no greater priority of this Christian institution than to get resolution, healing and compensation to these individuals — now.”

Talach said the “vast majority” of the agreements were reached in 2015 “on the promise that they would be settled with their insurance company in the coming months.”

“That’s why this language of ‘months’ spooks me, because I’ve heard it before. I’ve heard ‘months’ and it turned into seven years and counting,” he said.

He noted the value of those settlements has “dwindled” over the years with inflation. “And there’s interest that will be inadequately compensated for.”

In addition, “they took less money then because they thought they were going to get paid then,” he said.

Talach also raised concerns about the confidential terms of the agreement.

“We’re not going to know if the diocese in the end spends all that money they got, or what the real fiscal outcome of that settlement was.”

In 2017, Vienneau told CBC News getting insurance to pay was the church’s last hope, with virtually no money left in its coffers. Otherwise, the archdiocese might be forced to declare bankruptcy, he had said.

Provides closure, relief for victims

Moncton lawyer Brian Murphy said the settlement is “a relief” for the nine victims he represents, “all of whom have suffered physical and psychological damage.

“This is a little more than a payment of a contract debt. This is closure on something that’s been deeply hurtful to them in terms of anxiety and depression and life-altering things for them,” he said.

“The other thing that’s important to recognize is that many of them have physical ailments that mandate that the church and the Co-operators insurance company move with some dispatch because some of my clients are not well.

“So we hope that, you know, before Christmas at least, in the spirit of that season, that the church would see to the payment of everybody’s claims. I have no reason to think that wouldn’t be possible.”

The archdiocese asks “that God grant peace to every victim of abuse in the archdiocese, those who have resolved claims and those who have yet to do so,” said Vienneau, and it asks for their “continued patience while [it takes] the necessary steps to resolve remaining claims and complete settlements.”

“Our implementation of stringent guidelines and procedures for clergy and volunteers will hopefully prevent any repeat of such aggressions.”

With files from Pascal Raiche-Nogue,of%20sexual%20abuse%20by%20priests.