Notifying Insurance Firm Useless: Former Bursar

By Trevor Pritchard
Standard Freeholder

July 23, 2008

The local Catholic diocese’s insurance company would have launched their own investigation into abuse allegations against Rev. Charles MacDonald had they been informed in September 1993, the Cornwall Public Inquiry heard Wednesday.

But Rev. Gordan Bryan said it would have been “useless” from a financial perspective for the Alexandria-Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese to contact those insurers after striking a $32,000 settlement with David Silmser.

“I should have,” said Bryan. “But I also know once you’ve made a (settlement) your insurance company doesn’t cover it. So it would have been useless.”

As the diocese’s bursar from 1982 to 2005, Bryan managed many of the church’s financial affairs.

On Sept. 2, 1993, he signed off on a $27,000 cheque the diocese was to pay to Silmser.

Ten months earlier, Silmser had accused MacDonald of sexually abusing him when he was an altar boy at St. Columban’s Church in the 1960s and 1970s.

The other $5,000 was to come from MacDonald himself, Bryan said.

After the deal was completed, Bryan accepted the final settlement documents in a sealed envelope from Jacques Leduc, who negotiated on the diocese’s behalf. Without opening it, Bryan marked the envelope as confidential and filed it with the rest of the diocese’s legal documents.

No one looked inside the envelope until January 1994, after Silmser’s lawyer told Leduc the settlement contained an illegal clause that kept his client from pursuing criminal charges against MacDonald.

By that time, then-bishop Eugene LaRocque had already told the media the payout didn’t prevent Silmser from going to police.

Bryan told commission counsel that “in hindsight” he should have given the envelope to LaRocque in September 1993.

“It related to Father MacDonald,” said Bryan. “I assume I should’ve thought about it, that it should've gone in his file.”

MacDonald would be charged in 1996 with sexually abusing a number of young men. His charges were stayed in 2002 after a judge ruled the priest’s right to a timely trial had been violated.

The lawyer representing MacDonald who drew up the final documents, Malcolm MacDonald (no relation), would later plead guilty to obstructing justice.

Bryan told commission counsel Maya Hamou the diocese’s insurance policy in 1993 didn’t cover historical sexual abuse allegations. Any coverage that did exist, he said, would have been difficult to find.

The diocese would have had to track down the policy in place when the alleged abuse occurred, he said.

“(Those companies) were in the dust,” said Bryan. “No one knew where they would have amalgamated and disappeared to.”

The insurance company investigator would likely have contacted the local authorities, including police, he added.

When Hamou asked Bryan why the diocese made the $27,000 cheque out in trust to Leduc’s law office, Bryan said that was how the diocese had handled real estate transactions.

Leduc had been retained primarily by the diocese as a real estate lawyer before handling the Silmser settlement.

Bryan also denied attending two meetings in August and September 1993 where LaRocque, Leduc, and Malcolm MacDonald discussed the settlement’s terms.

Leduc had previously indicated Bryan was at one of the two meetings, but Bryan testified he didn't even know Silmser’s name until news of the settlement appeared in the media in January 1994.

“We (Leduc and I) met a numer of times after the fact, so it’s possible he just assumed I was there,” said Bryan.

He also testified he couldn’t make financial decisions without the bishop’s approval.

Bryan is set to resume testifying when the inquiry – which is probing how institutions like the diocese reacted when faced with allegations of historical sexual abuse – reconvenes today at 9:30 a.m.



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