Vigil calls on Catholic Diocese to drop legal fight against abuse survivor

By Bryan Bicknell
CTV News
September 15, 2020

[with video]

LONDON, ONT. -- Those taking part in a vigil outside St. Peter’s Basilica in downtown London on Tuesday called on the Catholic Diocese of London to drop its appeal in a decades-long legal battle with a sexual abuse survivor.

“The way that the church is treating me now through litigation is so traumatizing, and it’s much more traumatizing than the actual abuse,” said sexual abuse survivor Irene Deschenes.

Deschenes reached a settlement in 2000 for sexual abuse she suffered as a child in the early 1970s at the hands of the late Father Charles Sylvestre.

Information later came to light that the diocese had received police statements in 1962, alleging the priest had assaulted three girls.

Ontario’s highest court then granted Deschenes the right to sue the church a second time.

“When we settled, they told us they didn’t know about Sylvestre’s proclivities,” said Deschenes. “I had a gut feeling that they must have known because he had been doing it for a long time. But based on that information I did settle with the Catholic church.”

Those taking part in the vigil each took a turn standing in silence for one hour at the walkway to the church. It was a quiet appeal to the church to do what they believe is the right thing.

The action got the attention of passerby Dan Warren, who said the church needs to stop fighting victims of sexual abuse.

“If somebody is protesting a church, like that kind of says something - that something is wrong. And I’m not saying the people in this church specifically. But still, they should take a stand against the people above them. That’s what the problem has always been with them.”

Matthew Clarke, a spokesperson for the diocese, tells CTV News in an email, "We are aware of the vigil and respect her right to peacefully gather with her supporters outside of our churches."

He referred to a statement released when they announced their Supreme Court appeal, which reads:

"The Diocese of London continues to offer our prayers and support to victims of clerical abuse. In all cases we believe we have treated victims with the empathy and respect needed to help them receive justice and begin the healing process. Being fair and just means that settlements are reached based on the specific circumstances of each individual case, including that of Irene Deschenes. The Diocese believes there are important legal issues that need to the considered by the Supreme Court. The Diocese is very much aware of its responsibility to be a good steward of the resources entrusted to it. Because this matter is before the courts, no further comment is possible at this time."


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