Court Document Lists $15 Million in Quiet Sex-abuse Settlements by London Diocese
By Sandro Contenta and Mary Ormsby
June 28, 2018
A decade-long court battle between the Roman Catholic Diocese of London and its insurance company has disclosed $15 million in largely secret settlements to people who sued priests for sexual abuse.
The payments — listed in a document filed with London’s Superior Court — went to 50 people accusing 12 priests in the diocese of sexual abuse.
|A single-page document provides a rare glimpse into how a Canadian diocese dealt with a string of accusers. (MARTA IWANEK / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)|
The single-page document provides a rare glimpse into how a Canadian diocese dealt with a string of accusers by charting the millions quietly paid to them.
View the payout amounts in our interactive graphic
Settlements like these are usually kept secret by non-disclosure agreements. This court document lifts the veil on that process with a detailed financial portrait of a troubled diocese handling sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic church for years. When legal fees, mediation costs and the price of special reports are included, the total costs of the settlements for alleged abuses that occurred during an eight-year period jumps to $17.7 million.
The abuses that resulted in the settlements — committed against boys and girls as young as 6 — took place between 1963 and 1971, a period when the diocese’s insurance coverage is being disputed in court. The settlements were struck during the last 18 years.
The list includes notorious predators like Rev. Charles Henry Sylvestre, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to sexually assaulting 47 girls. Eleven of his victims – including a 14-year-old girl who became pregnant by Sylvestre and suffered a botched abortion the priest arranged — received settlements totalling $5.2 million.
Priests who have never been publicly named as alleged abusers also appear on the list, including the late Rev. Ulysse Lefaive, accused of raping a 10-year-old girl in a Sarnia-area rectory in 1966. The alleged victim settled for $62,500 in 2013.
The largest settlement on the list — almost $2.5 million in 2004 — was for the impact of abuse by Rev. Barry Donald Glendinning on a family, including the repeated sexual assault of three brothers beginning when they were 6, 8 and 10. He had the boys in his room up to 300 times.
The bill for the disputed eight-year period isn’t final. The court document notes that seven more sexual abuse cases against priests are pending.
The list of settled and pending cases brings the number of priests charged or sued for sexual abuse in the London diocese to at least 30, including 14 who have been written about in news reports but are not part of the 1963-1971 settlement list.
The London diocese refused to tell the Star how much it has paid, in total, for all priests accused of sexual abuse.
The insurance dispute is scheduled for a September trial in London.
The insurance court case, first revealed in the Star, was launched in 2008, after AXA Insurance refused to cover the diocese for two sexual abuse settlement claims totalling about $900,000. The diocese sued AXA for $2 million for breach of contract.
AXA, now owned by Intact Financial Corp., one of Canada’s largest liability insurance companies, then countersued. It’s demanding the return of $10 million it paid the diocese for the 1963-1971 settlements. AXA disputes that a policy existed during that period. And if it did, the company argues it was made void by the diocese’s failure to disclose abuse committed by its priests before the policy was issued and renewed.
AXA also accuses the diocese of hiding pedophile priests by moving them to different parishes or duties for decades, thereby misleading the insurance company and exposing it to greater financial risk.
The Star discovered the list of settlements in two large boxes stuffed with court documents about the case. The list shows widely different payments.
In a trial, awards in sexual abuse cases are partly based on the pain and suffering caused by the abuse. Pain and suffering awards have been capped by Supreme Court rulings at about $375,000, says Loretta Merritt, a Toronto lawyer who specializes in abuse cases.
“Generally speaking, the younger and more vulnerable the child, the higher the award,” Merritt adds. “The greater the number of the incidents, the more invasive the incidents, the more violent the incidents, the longer the duration over which the child endured the abuse — the higher the award.”
How close the relationship was between victim and abuser, and how great the breach of trust, are also considered, along with the long-term impact on the child.
If the abuse was particularly heinous, aggravated damages will be added. The court will also consider the cost of past or future health care, such as the need for therapy, and the income a victim may have lost because of the abuse. Statements of claim reviewed by the Star often describe abused children as eventually failing in school, abusing alcohol or drugs, suffering mental anguish and struggling to hold down jobs.
Finally, the court will consider punitive damages, meant to punish the abuser, and rarely awarded against institutions. Diocese or religious orders have sometimes been hit with such damages, when they shuffled abusive priests from one parish to another, for example.
In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that dioceses are “vicariously” liable for abuses committed by their priests, given the control the diocese exercises over priests and the power conferred to priests by the diocese. What it means is that dioceses are also on the hook for damages awarded.
Settlements struck without going to trial are always a compromise, Merritt says, even though the same category of damages are considered.
“You may not have a slam-dunk case where the (abuser’s) been convicted,” Merritt says. “You might not be sure whether you’re going to win.
“There’s a significant cost to going to trial, in terms of the time it takes, in terms of the emotional investment, etc. So each person may not want to do it. It depends on the individual. Some people want their day in court and are excited to go to trial, other people would rather settle.”