CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) [Toronto, Canada]
May 10, 2023
By Kristy Nease
2 alleged victims of late Rev. Dale Crampton also alleged sex abuse by late Auxiliary Bishop John Beahen
WARNING: This story contains details of child sexual abuse.
The Catholic church in Ottawa has quietly settled three child sexual abuse lawsuits involving notorious priest Dale Crampton, cancelling three separate jury trials that were scheduled to be heard in Ottawa this spring.
Two of the three plaintiffs alleged they were not only assaulted by Crampton, who killed himself in 2010, but also by his superior, auxiliary bishop John Beahen, at Crampton’s cottage in West Carleton. Beahen died from a stroke in 1988.
Unlike in criminal courts, civil jury trials are rare in Canada — Ontario is one of a few provinces that still hold them. Most cases end up being settled out of court, sparing both sides the risk and scrutiny of public trials, and keeping any evidence gathered in the dark.
But documents filed in preparation for the now-cancelled trials, obtained from the Ottawa courthouse by CBC News and revealed publicly for the first time, contain disturbing new allegations about early warnings of Crampton’s abuse, and cast rare light on the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall’s side of the story.
The documents show that in the mid-1960s — years before the abuse alleged in the settled lawsuits and the crimes Crampton committed in later decades — Beahen was allegedly told by two different young men that Crampton had sexually assaulted boys in Ottawa.
One of the whistleblowers was Beahen’s own nephew, who swore in a 2014 affidavit he told his uncle in 1966 that Crampton had sexually assaulted another member of Beahen’s extended family.
The other complainant was a friend of that nephew. He swore in a separate 2014 affidavit that Crampton fondled him at St. Margaret Mary parish in 1965, and that two weeks later he reported it to Beahen, who assured the young man he would handle it.
In October 1966, Crampton was transferred to Beahen’s parish, St. Elizabeth’s, where the two priests lived and worked together for a year and a half, the documents allege.
The allegations are found in pre-trial memos filed by the firm that represented all three plaintiffs: Beckett Personal Injury Lawyers based in London, Ont. The firm has brought hundreds of lawsuits against the Catholic church in Canada — 16 of them involving alleged abuse by Crampton in Ottawa.
Pre-trial memos lay out each side’s arguments in a case and any documents to substantiate them — evidence that may or may not end up being heard at trial. They are not typically accessible to the public.
In the affidavit contained in the memos, Beahen’s nephew said he “felt a tremendous relief” after Crampton was transferred in 1966, thinking his uncle would help Crampton get the help he needed.
Crampton went on to sexually assault seven altar boys over a 10-year period in the 1970s and ’80s, crimes he pleaded guilty to in 1986.
And two of the plaintiffs in the recently settled civil cases allege Beahen later assaulted them. Both plaintiffs alleged they felt like Crampton had offered them up to Beahen at the cottage.
There were other warning signs, lawyers for the plaintiffs outlined in records obtained by CBC.
They include a letter written by Francis J. Quinlan of Oblate Fathers on July 20, 1955, and sent to then Ottawa archbishop Marie-Joseph Lemieux, in which Quinlan described Crampton as “somewhat too fond of young boys.”
Beahen, meanwhile, was stripped of his faculties for five months after becoming a priest in 1946 due to his “run down condition,” and in the fall of 1986 he was sent to Southdown, a facility that treats priests for alcoholism and sexual problems, one of the plaintiff’s memos alleges.
14 lawsuits involving Crampton settled
Beahen was a priest in the Ottawa area for more than 40 years and auxiliary bishop for more than 10 before his fatal stroke. Crampton died by suicide in Ottawa in 2010, as more alleged victims spoke to police about him and the spectre of possible additional charges loomed.
Aaron Lealess has handled most of the civil cases involving Crampton for Beckett Personal Injury Lawyers, with Rob Talach working on some others.
Fourteen of the 16 suits they’ve filed to date have been settled. Two were settled in November, cancelling trials that were scheduled to begin in March and May this year. The third was settled in the past few weeks, cancelling a May trial.
The financial terms are confidential.
The three recently settled suits were filed in 2016 and 2017, each seeking $2 million in damages. The alleged victims are P.G. and R.S. — who CBC has agreed not to name due to their privacy concerns and fears of revictimization — and a third man, Michael Dixon.
The civil cases were first reported by the Ottawa Citizen.
Dixon alleges he was about 13 years old and helping out as an altar boy when Crampton began sexually assaulting him sometime in or around 1977.
The priest allegedly fondled the boy’s genitals over and under his clothes, masturbated and performed oral sex on him, and directed the boy to do the same to him. It took place in the church rectory and sacristy, in Crampton’s cottage and in his car as they ran errands and went to lunch, and continued for two years, the pre-trial memo in Dixon’s case alleges.
Alleged abuse by Beahen
In an interview with CBC, Dixon talked about the alleged incident involving Beahen. Dixon was staying at Crampton’s cottage and heading inside when he discovered Beahen there. Dixon said Crampton then left to get groceries, leaving him and Beahen alone.
Beahen kissed and fondled him, then they moved to the bedroom, where more acts took place and Beahen asked, “Does Father Crampton do this to you, too?” Dixon alleged.
When Crampton returned from the store, M.D. and Beahen were still in the bedroom. Crampton didn’t rush in or ask what was going on.
“It was quite obvious that I had kind of been set up, like he knew kind of what was happening in there,” Dixon said.
Afterward Dixon went to the bathroom, closed the door, started to cry and wished he was home, he said. That night, as Crampton and Beahen were getting drunk, he put a chair against the door of his room to keep them out, he said.
After seven years of litigation, Dixon said he’s happy with the outcome but thinks it took too long. He also wishes someone from the church had reached out to him and his family to check on them afterward.
“At the end of the day, they really don’t care,” he said.
‘It is high time that this diocese tell the truth’
P.G.’s 2016 suit was settled more recently, in the past few weeks. He alleged abuse by Crampton on three occasions starting in 1979, when he was about 11 years old: in the St. Maurice church sacristy, at Crampton’s cottage, and years later in the confessional at P.G.’s school in Grade 8, where Crampton allegedly asked him to demonstrate masturbating (the boy declined) and then told P.G. that what happened at the cottage must be kept secret.
“[P.G.] was terrified and ‘shut down.’ He never attended confession after this incident,” the pre-trial memo alleges.
The memo also alleges that in the years after his statement of claim was filed, [P.G.] remembered and disclosed to his psychologist an incident involving Beahen in the cottage, when Crampton stepped outside for a cigarette.
“Beahen pulled down his trousers and forced his penis into [P.G.’s] mouth. [P.G.] also recalls that Beahen sodomized him that day,” the plaintiff’s pre-trial memo reads.
“[P.G.] believes Crampton took him to the cottage to be ‘served up like a party favour to Bishop Beahen.’ After returning from the cottage, [he] ceased his service as an altar boy.”
In a statement emailed to CBC Tuesday, P.G. called on the church to release a list of all credibly accused clergy in its ranks, as the Jesuits did earlier this year. He said it’s “inexcusable” that such a list hasn’t already been released.
“It is high time that this diocese tell the truth to the citizens of Ottawa about the extent of sexual abuse of children by their clergy, including the pattern of neglect that enabled that abuse for decades,” P.G. wrote.
The third settled suit alleged Crampton abused R.S. over multiple summers at Crampton’s cottage, where he and his father were invited to stay, starting in 1975 when he was about 10 years old. R.S. alleged Crampton masturbated him, tried to make R.S. touch Crampton, and tried to direct his head to Crampton’s crotch area.
“[R.S.] would resist and pull back. The abuse finally stopped around 1977, when [his] father abruptly stopped going to Crampton’s cottage for reasons unknown to [him],” according to the plaintiff’s pre-trial memo.
The allegations that Beahen was close with Crampton, and himself later sexually abused boys, raise questions about whether Beahen may have had reason to turn a blind eye to reports of sexual abuse by clergy when he was a priest, and later in his role as auxiliary bishop. He had been responsible for overseeing these complaints in his role as senior vicar general at the time of his death, the lawyers for the plaintiffs allege.
In the ’60s, as a priest, Beahen may have been covering for one of his brothers, Talach told CBC in an interview Monday.
“As time goes by, it seems that his motivation may have actually been darker in the sense that he himself was engaged in misconduct, because we’ve heard that from several clients over the years. And other individuals, in fact, have testified under oath that Beahen was of a certain stripe and may have been engaging in misconduct himself,” Talach said.
Talach was referring to evidence heard in the 1990s trial of another disgraced Ottawa priest, Kenneth Keeler, who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing boys in the 1970s and ’80s.
Court heard from witnesses who testified that Beahen would chase after young boys at St. Brigid’s Camp, and that Keeler was seen masturbating Beahen, according to the pre-trial memos.
Lealess said he’s seen many instances of priests covering for one another after a decade of handling sex abuse cases.
“I think it’s a major problem that contributes to the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church,” he said Monday.
The church’s position
The Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall’s communications director, Geneviève Bonin-Labelle, declined to comment.
“We do not have any specific responses to your questions, as the archdiocese does not comment on matters that are going through the court process or may have been settled,” Bonin-Labelle wrote in a statement emailed Friday.
The court documents obtained by CBC, however, offer some insight on the archdiocese’s position.
In its own pre-trial memos, filed on behalf of the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of Ottawa (RCECO) by lawyer Charles Gibson of Vincent Dagenais Gibson, the church admitted for the purposes of the pre-trial that Crampton abused the plaintiffs, but denied any abuse by Beahen. It also noted that in P.G.’s case, his allegations against Beahen weren’t sworn.
The archdiocese alleged inconsistencies in the material submitted by all three plaintiffs, affecting their credibility, and that “pre-existing or other contributing conditions” for all three plaintiffs meant they would have suffered damages anyway.
It also alleged that it took reasonable steps in the context of the 1970s to prevent abuse.
Also in its defence, the archdiocese wrote that it wasn’t aware of Crampton’s abuse or any tendency of abuse until 1986, that then archbishop Joseph-Aurèle Plourde was not informed of Crampton’s abuse prior to 1986, and that the earliest the archdiocese could possibly have known about it was 1984.
As for the affidavits of the whistleblowers, who said they told then-priest Beahen in the mid 1960s about Crampton abusing boys, the church described them as being “limited to telling Fr. Beahen that Crampton was a homosexual,” and that telling a priest wasn’t the same thing as notifying the archdiocese.
“A mention of homosexuality to a priest of the Archdiocese of Ottawa is not notice to the RCECO,” the defendant’s memos read.
Criminally convicted in the 1980s
Crampton first received public scrutiny decades ago — in 1986, CBC reported then — after police in Nepean charged him with indecently assaulting three young altar boys.
He was in treatment at the time, diagnosed with alcohol addiction and homosexual pedophilia.
A short time later, four more young boys came forward to police alleging sexual abuse by Crampton.
He ended up pleading guilty to seven of the charges laid against him.
The abuse took place over a 10-year period from the early 1970s to 1980s, when the boys were between 10 and 14 years old. Crampton’s assaults on the children happened in the rectory at St. Maurice church in Nepean, where Crampton worked as a priest for years, and at Crampton’s cottage in West Carleton, where parents had given their sons permission to stay overnight.
A judge spared Crampton any jail time, imposing a two-year suspended sentence of probation.
Angered families wrote to the Attorney General’s office, the Crown appealed the sentence, and in 1987 another judge gave the disgraced priest eight months in jail.
A parent of one of the victims spoke to CBC after Crampton’s harsher sentence was imposed, her identity obscured to protect her son.
“I felt society had to show the Roman Catholic Church that it wasn’t the law unto itself, that when a crime is done, that everybody has to answer for it to society, and that these young children as victims had to see that the justice system would work for them,” she said.
First lawsuit filed, settled in ’80s
Also in 1987, the families of three of Crampton’s victims sued him, his superior Beahen (who died the following year) and the archdiocese, saying they had been paying out of pocket for psychiatric treatment for their abused sons and the church should more fulsomely own up to the abuse.
The three families were asking for a little over $1 million. In 1989 they settled out of court for about $60,000, CBC reported then — approximately $127,000 in 2023 dollars.
The families didn’t get all the compensation they were seeking, but achieved their other goal of shining more light on sexual abuse by clergy in Canada, said Mike Gibbons, who served as an adviser to the families, in an interview with CBC Radio’s All In A Day in October 1989.
And they insisted that they retain their right to talk about the settlement afterward.
“They do feel that they’ve achieved the social dimension of the protest,” Gibbons said. “The civil litigation case was in fact a protest, and it was actually a cry for help.”
Gibbons went public with the complaints of the families — which prompted the initial criminal investigation by local police — despite being threatened with excommunication by the bishop if he did so, CBC reported back then.
Lawsuit years later prompted renewed scrutiny
In 1986 the church assigned Crampton to work as a priest for the Toronto Regional Matrimonial Tribunal, and after the lawsuit was settled in 1989, he faded from public view. He retired from the priesthood in 1995.
In 2009, Crampton’s name resurfaced when another one of his victims in the 1980s criminal case sued him and the archdiocese for $2 million.
The victim, a man identified only as A.V.B. due to a publication ban, was represented by Talach and settled out of court that same year for an undisclosed sum.
After that lawsuit put Crampton back in the news, even more victims brought allegations forward to Ottawa police in 2010.
On Oct. 12 that year, Crampton died by suicide.