Lawyer Urged Church to Fix "Messy Situation"

By Geoff Nixon
Ottawa Citizen

July 15, 2008

Cornwall sex abuse inquiry hears that archdiocese was told in 'forceful' way to settle alleged victim's case

CORNWALL . A former lawyer for the Archdiocese of Alexandria-Cornwall pressured church officials to settle "a messy situation" first revealed in 1992, the Cornwall public inquiry heard Tuesday.

Jacques Leduc, a Cornwall lawyer who worked for the archdiocese "from time-to-time" between 1978 and 1994, took the stand for the second day at the public inquiry into the institutional response to allegations of systemic historical sexual abuse in the area. It was Mr. Leduc to whom church officials turned for legal advice when a complainant accused a priest of sexually abusing him when he was a child.

In December 1992, a complaint was brought forward against Rev. Charles MacDonald by David Silmser - a former altar boy to whom the church would later pay $32,000 as part of a non-disclosure agreement.

Two months later, on Feb. 9, 1993, Mr. Leduc, Msgr. Donald MacDougald and Chancellor Denis Vaillancourt, both of the archdiocese, met with Mr. Silmser to discuss his allegations.

In a 1994 statement given to OPP, Mr. Leduc said he and his colleagues concluded at the end of the session that Mr. Silmser was either "telling the truth or was one of the best actors possible."

Or, as he put it Tuesday, Mr. Silmser's "anguish appeared real" and he became "extremely emotional" when talking with church officials about what had occurred, Mr. Leduc said.

According to his testimony, Mr. Leduc said he simply asked questions of Mr. Silmser that day and when the meeting was over, advised his clients to make a report of what had transpired. Specifically, he told Msgr. MacDougald "very clearly that a report was to be prepared, in writing, and submitted to the bishop."

Beyond that, he had little to do with the matter until he was contacted regarding the possibility of a settlement, Mr. Leduc said.

He did not follow up to see that his instructions had been followed, he said.

Mr. Leduc did not have any notes he could show the court about the meeting, claiming he never, at any point, kept a file on the matter involving Mr. Silmser.

At the end of August 1993, the lawyer representing the accused priest, Father MacDonald, indicated he could arrange a settlement between the church and the complainant, and Mr. Leduc was in favour of doing so.

But Bishop Eugene Laracque wanted no part of any settlement and wanted criminal proceedings to move forward if warranted - something that frustrated Mr. Leduc.

As Mr. Leduc told police in the same 1994 statement, he felt a settlement "represented a good opportunity to resolve a messy situation, to protect the reputation of the priest, which would be destroyed by any legal proceedings, regardless of his innocence, and to avoid incurring unnecessary costs in defending the civil suit."

But eventually, Bishop Laracque was swayed, after Mr. Leduc was "very forceful" in convincing him of the benefits of settling.

When asked by commission counsel Karen Jones to clarify what he meant by "forceful," Mr. Leduc said: "The arguments I put forth were persuasive."

The church settled for $32,000 in a non-disclosure agreement shown at the inquiry Tuesday.

The inquiry continues Wednesday.

With files from Neco Cockburn


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