Day 3 in court: “Last Minute Document Privilege”

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

February 8, 2024

By Bernadette Howell

Breaking silence. Confronting clergy abuse. 

Day 3 began with another of Doe’s siblings testifying (Doe has several siblings). On this occasion, Doe’s older brother had agreed to take the stand. 

Doe’s older brother taking the stand was a great act of courage for many different reasons. One such reason, we quickly came to learn, was that this brother had also been sexually abused by Raymond Clavin but has never spoken about it publicly till today.

Older by 3 years, Doe’s brother was initially asked to recall details of their early family life. After three days in in court, I already know and have a vivid picture of Doe’s parents, confirmed yet again as a “young, exuberant, happy couple”. I heard of how their mother “doted” on their father with Doe’s brother adding, and with great feeling and emotion, that “my mother was so in love with him”.  

Consequently, you can only imagine how devastating and overwhelming it must have been for that young mother when she received sudden news that her husband had been tragically killed in a workplace accident. News of the tragic accident was delivered when Doe was celebrating his 5th birthday. He and siblings, along with all his Kindergarten class present, were celebrating his birthday party in the family’s back yard. 

One moment you are a “great little family”  – as Doe’s brother described it – and next, your world is turned completely on its head. 

How life changes in an instant…

Doe’s mother, still only in her late twenties at that time, was suddenly widowed. She was now a single mother to a large family of young children ranging in age from her youngest baby to her eldest, Doe’s brother, then 9 years of age. 

How does anyone cope with such profound loss and grief? 

Grief support literature these days tells us to rest, go gently with ourselves, get out into the fresh air, sleep when we need to, avoid using alcohol to sooth ourselves etc. etc. 

But 50 years ago? Who was offering this advice and what grief support was available? 

How, with no immediate family residing in Vancouver, was a young distraught and grieving mother with young children expected to cope with such shock and loss? 

We heard from Doe’s brother today how local families from their parish stepped in and helped, offering support with visits and providing meals. But, as it so often does, such support soon peters out. 

But it seemed there was another answer.

Fr. John Kilty and Raymond Clavin (a teacher at the school) offered support to Doe’s mother. They not only offered comforting words. They also offered practical help 

They both offered to look after the kids.  

By this time, Doe’s mother was really struggling, utterly overwhelmed by grief. Alcohol provided comfort to her as we know it does for many of us when we need to relax and momentarily ‘forget’.  And, as happens to many struggling to cope, her mental health soon began to deteriorate.

Fr. John Kilty and Raymond Clavin were keenly aware of this and of her vulnerable state.

And that’s what makes this unfolding story so hard to listen to…  

Kilty and Clavin stepped in. They offered to help. 

Clavin for example, offered to take Doe’s older brother to boy-scout meetings but used the car rides there and back as a time to assault and molest this young kid, while Kilty, meanwhile, was offering sleepovers at his home in the rectory for six year old Doe, his sister and younger siblings. 

We all heard on Monday (well…not the Archbishop of Vancouver…because he wasn’t there to hear it..) what Doe endured as a six-year-old kid when he was raped, and what profound impact this had on him then, and still now. 

What I omitted to tell you was that yesterday in court, we also heard evidence that Fr. Kilty had Doe’s sister and a younger brother over for a sleepover one particular night. I am surmising that this was most likely under the pretext of assuring their grieving mother that he, this wonderful priest, would help out by giving her a break from the kids. But instead, Fr. Kilty was in fact getting this young girl to undress before him while intently watching her, insisting she strip completely naked before him and then step into the bath in his home.

Many of you reading this may or may not know, that this is typical predatory behaviour. Find a young kid (…or a vulnerable young adult for that matter) whose parent or family member has just died. Alternatively, find someone who is not coping well with mental health challenges. In other words, find individuals who are struggling and vulnerable. Then, while offering them comfort you simultaneously groom then, all under the pretext of pretending that you care and want to help. This way, you gain their complete trust. 

Doe as a little six-year-old trusted Fr. Kilty. He was like a father-figure to him after his own dad had so recently and tragically died. But Fr. Kilty assaulted and raped him. 

Doe’s grieving mother trusted Raymond Clavin to take her eldest son to boy-scout meetings. But Raymond Clavin assaulted and molested him.  

The priest and his teacher colleague. Both in the employ of the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. 

I wish I could keep this blog shorter! But I can’t. There’s still so much more to share and even then, so much that I’m not sharing. 

I found myself struggling today. 

I struggled today with the direction of the cross examination by the Archdiocese.

SO much time was spent on Doe’s mother, on her state of mind and on the children’s relationship with their mother after their father’s death. So much time focused on her frame of mind and deteriorating mental health. So much time focused on her drinking resulting from grief and despair. 

I got the sense that somehow the Archdiocese was trying to paint a picture of a ‘neglectful alcoholic mother’ who was complicit in allowing her children be molested by these two rapists. 

In the afternoon session, Doe himself underwent further cross examination. 

It felt to me as though all his personal therapy session notes (we’re talking several binders full of individual therapy notes…) were being pulled apart with a fine toothcomb so as to prove that his trauma and distress was mostly related to his mother. 

To Doe’s credit, and he spoke with graceful poise as he said it that “to make this all about a ‘mother issue’ is so restrictive. Its only a part of it all.”  

It seemed strange to me that therapy notes were almost being interpreted as proof of events happening rather than notes recording a traumatized individual who is, in the moment, processing hurtful and harmful emotions.

Before I wrap up for the evening, I want to share one last thing that quite frankly, angered me and served to reaffirm my belief that the Archdiocese of Vancouver holds onto many records but won’t readily share them when needed. 

Doe’s brother was being cross-examined about school attendance at Holy Trinity School and was asked to clarify dates. As I understand it, the Church’s lawyer had just learned new information during this brother’s morning testimony and so, during the morning break, sought to have this information verified.

We had already returned back into session when, about fifteen minutes later, the courtroom door opens, and the Archbishop’s Delegate for Operations rushes in to pass a printed document to the Church lawyers – a document they just secured within the last hour. 

I have no idea if this document was greatly pertinent or not. The Church’s lawyer seemed very keen to present this new information as though there was some minor contradictory evidence on attendance dates. but as it happens, Justice Catherine Murray, quite rightly, would not allow such last-minute documentation be presented. But what struck me was this last-minute document privilege. 

The Archdiocese was able, at the drop of a hat, to produce a record of school attendance from over fifty years ago. Just like that! 

What this tells me is that the Archdiocese holds and has meticulous records yet when victim-survivors are looking for records pertaining to abusive priests, these records seem neither to exist or, to mysteriously go missing. 

One thing is for sure. You sure as hell don’t have them produced so swiftly and promptly as we witnessed today!  

Fifty-year-old documents were produced – well within an hour – in order to disprove a victim-survivor’s claim. By way of contract, a different victim-survivor sitting in court today told me how he had to wait over four years to receive a Church document he sought.  

Last minute document privilege… 

I have to call it out for what it is: privilege and power over records and files that pertain to parishioners and families. Yes, the Archdiocese has files that record information. And they have the power to produce them when needed.

Or, as has been my experience, to ‘mysteriously lose’ or withhold them when they choose to.