Day 1 of the Trial

Bernadette Howell's Blog [North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada]

February 6, 2024

By Bernadette Howell

Breaking silence. Confronting clergy abuse. 

Its late in the evening and I’m still processing everything I heard earlier today in court – so forgive me if my thoughts are a little scattered.

Today was the opening day of a scheduled 19-day trial: John Doe versus the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. 

Before I go any further, I wish to truly honour the incredible courage of the plaintiff who uses the pseudonym, John Doe.  I was in awe of Doe’s presence and composure today in court. 

Doe was raped and molested by a Catholic priest, Fr. John Kilty of Holy Trinity Parish on Vancouver’s North Shore, when he was six years old. As a very young and vulnerable child whose own father had tragically died just months earlier, Doe at that time completely trusted and adored Fr. John Kilty. 

Soon after being molested and raped by Kilty, Doe was then also raped by a teacher at the same school, a man by the name of Raymond Clavin.  

That Doe showed tremendous composure today is not to say that there was no deep emotion felt by him. On the contrary, tears welled up, pauses needed to be taken and he was visibly anxious, enduring fluctuating body temperatures, body tensions and other stress reactions. 

Today, Doe was forced to recall and share the most intimate of details in a public courtroom-setting precisely because the Roman Catholic Archdiocese and the Archbishop of Vancouver deny direct liability for the actions of one of its priests. It also additionally denies direct liability for the teacher who was then in the employ of CISVA (the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese). 

While it does not deny the abuse took place, essentially the Catholic Archdiocese is denying there was an “operational culture” enabling these men to sexually assault children at the school and thus, should not be liable for punitive damages. 

I attach a link here which details more of the specifics of this opening day – and which will help you understand this case more fully. 

What I really want to share this evening relates to the horror I experienced today. Horror as I listened to terrifying details no child should ever have to endure. But also, horror of a different kind. 

As Doe testified to all that had happened to him at the hands of a priest and a teacher of the archdiocese why was the Archbishop of Vancouver not there to hear, first-hand, what this victim-survivor had endured? 

Why indeed was no other ‘high-ranking archdiocesan priest’ present in the courtroom today, to listen, and to learn, from what Doe had to say? 

Several individuals packed out the small courtroom. Yet only one person showed up from the Archdiocese of Vancouver.  But not a priest.

The one employee who showed up is not someone who was formed or trained in the clerical culture. He is not someone who belongs to the privileged cohort of priests who frequently appear to exempt themselves from regular standards of morality. He is not someone who knows first-hand what its like to hold power over people by virtue of their ‘priestly role’. 

So, my question is this: how can the Catholic Church say it is truly interested in combatting clergy sexual abuse when neither they, nor any priest of the archdiocese, make the effort to come and hear Doe speak of his experiences? 

Sure, the priests can hear about it second-hand through their representatives in court or read the court documents sent to them. But believe me, sitting in that court room today and hearing firsthand what Doe had to say was shocking to me. I was moved to tears and filled with rage as I listened to what Doe suffered as a kid. And still suffers as an adult. How I truly wish the Archbishop of Vancouver could have heard what I heard today…

Let me wrap up by saying that what that little six-year-old child suffered as a kid is certainly not something one can neatly pack away and speak of as being ‘historical’ or in the past. 

It was made vividly clear to me today that the sexual abuse Doe suffered continues to impact and affect who Doe is today.  So, when the media or the Vancouver Archdiocese report this as being an “historical case” there is little historical about it. 

And sure as heck, it is not an historical problem.

A present day problem exists: nothing has changed or will ever change if the clergy of the Catholic Church today cannot take the time to come and sit in Court Room 413 and hear, in person, what John Doe has to say.