Lawsuit claims decade of sex abuse at Somerset church

Winnipeg Free Press [Winnipeg MB, Canada]

July 6, 2023

By Erik Pindera

A man who alleges he was repeatedly sexually assaulted as a child by a Catholic priest in rural Manitoba and Winnipeg is taking the Archdiocese of St. Boniface to court — the second such legal action over abuse claims in as many months.

The man, 59, claims the alleged abuse began in 1972, when he was eight years old.

In the court documents, the man says the violations lasted until 1982, while he was a member of the Notre-Dame-de-la-Nativité in Somerset, a small community about 150 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg.

The man, who the Free Press is not naming due to the nature of the allegations, claims the sexual violations came at the hands of the church’s priest, Rene Touchette.

Touchette, who died in 2012 at 71, was charged with sexual assault and battery in Somerset in 1992, and convicted the next year. He was sentenced to 30 months, which was later reduced because of a medical issue. He was a priest at Somerset from 1972-90.

The lawsuit, filed June 29 in the Court of King’s Bench by Winnipeg-based lawyers Faron Trippier and Irina Vakurova of Fast Trippier Wittman LLP, names the archdiocese, its corporate arm and archbishop as defendants.

None of the parties have filed statements of defence. A spokesman for the archdiocese, Daniel Bahuaud, did not comment Wednesday.

The same lawyers had filed another lawsuit against the same defendants in late May, on behalf of another Winnipeg man, who alleges abuse by Touchette and another priest, Léo Couture, in St. Jean Baptiste in the early 1990s.

The latest lawsuit contains an overview of the May case as similar fact evidence.

Couture was also named as a defendant in the earlier alleged case, but died at 92 a few days prior to the court documents being filed.

The defendants have not yet filed statements of defence in the earlier case.

The two lawsuits come amid a decades-long scandal over the abuse of children at the hands of priests, nuns and other religious figures within the Catholic Church and subsequent cover-ups.

In the latest claim, which contains graphic allegations, the man says he lived next to the rectory in Somerset, where Touchette lived.

Touchette began asking the alleged victim to assist him with duties at the church and at his home and, while he attended school in Winnipeg, Touchette would travel to the capital city and take the boy to hotels, the lawsuit alleges.

On those occasions, the lawsuit claims, Touchette sexually assaulted the minor by exposing himself, forcing the boy to touch him sexually, molesting him violently and sodomizing him.

The alleged victim suffered physical injuries, emotional and psychological pain and trauma, and mental distress, the court papers say.

The lawsuit claims the archdiocese either knew or should have known Touchette was a “pedophile.”

It is alleged Touchette was transferred between churches during his career and various sexual assault complaints were made about him by others.

The lawsuit alleges the victim complained about the assaults directly to then-archbishop Antoine Hacault (1926-2000).

“Despite complaining to the archbishop, the archbishop failed and refused to intervene, to contact the police or to remove Touchette from his duties as a priest,” the court papers say. “Instead, the archbishop told the plaintiff to pray about the abuse.”

“Instead, the archbishop told the plaintiff to pray about the abuse.”–Court papers

The man is seeking damages to be determined at trial, claiming he has suffered post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, humiliation and a loss of dignity.

The court document claims the archdiocese had a pattern of employing sex offenders, including an administrator hired in 1990 who had been convicted of sexually abusing young boys at a residential school in the Northwest Territories in 1962.

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.