Archdiocese sued over alleged sex crimes
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A Winnipeg man who alleges he was sexually abused decades ago by two Catholic priests — including one who was convicted of sex crimes in the 1990s — is suing the Archdiocese of St. Boniface and the Red River Valley School Division.
The man, 44, claims the abuse occurred while he was a student around 1990-91 at St. Jean Baptiste Elementary, a now-defunct facility that merged with another school in the community and joined the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine in 1994.
The man, who the Free Press is not naming because of the nature of the allegations, says in the lawsuit the abuse began when he was around 10 or 11, when he was a member of the Catholic Church in St. Jean Baptiste, a francophone community about 75 kilometres south of Winnipeg.
The 15-page lawsuit was filed May 15 in Court of King’s Bench by Winnipeg-based lawyers Faron Trippier and Irina Vakurova.
The court papers contain graphic details of the alleged sexual touching and rape, and allege the archdiocese and school division either knew or ought to have known the two accused priests were “pedophiles” who had been subject to complaints.
Neither the archdiocese and its corporate arm, the archbishop nor the RRVSD have filed statements of defence.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
A spokesman for the archdiocese, Daniel Bahuaud, said Wednesday it had no comment. The school division’s superintendent did not respond to requests for comment.
The Manitoba lawsuit contains some of the latest allegations in the decades-long scandal over the abuse of children at the hands of priests, nuns and other religious figures within the Catholic Church and subsequent coverups.
The lawsuit names one of the accused priests, Léo Couture, as a defendant, but it appears the 92-year-old died recently, according to an obituary and religious media reports.
The other, Rene Touchette, died in 2012 at age 71.
He was charged in 1992 with sexual assault and battery in Somerset, where he had been a priest, and convicted in December 1993. He was sentenced to 30 months, which was later reduced due to a medical condition, according to the court documents.
Touchette was a priest at St. Jean Baptiste’s church from August to mid-September 1990, according to the court documents.
The court papers claim the two priests were given unfettered access to the students at the school.
Couture, the suit claims, provided instructions during catechism classes. As a Catholic, the alleged victim was dependent on, took instruction from and was required to submit to the two priests, who “exercised authority and power” over him, the lawsuit says.
At 10 or 11, the two priests asked him on multiple occasions to assist with church duties during the lunch hour on school days, the suit claims.
“On those occasions, Couture and Touchette took the plaintiff to the convent building located adjacent to the… school and sexually assaulted the plaintiff,” the court papers read.
“Couture and Touchette took the plaintiff to the convent building located adjacent to the… school and sexually assaulted the plaintiff”–Court papers
Those assaults, the lawsuit claims, included forcing the boy to strip, forced sexual touching, molestation and penetration.
“These violent assaults of a sexual nature took place on approximately six occasions,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit alleges the man suffered physical injuries, as well as significant emotional and psychological pain and trauma.
The court papers say the school division and archdiocese had a duty to act in the then-student’s best interests and provide him with education and religious and spiritual guidance, while safeguarding him from sexual offenders.
The man is seeking unspecified damages for pain and suffering, loss of past and future income, the cost of care and treatment, aggravated damages, and court costs, among other requests of the court.
The recent lawsuit comes after the Jesuits of Canada, a religious order of the Catholic Church, released a list of names in March that included eight priests or brothers who spent time working in Manitoba as among those “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors as far back as the 1950s.
The list included former St. Paul’s High School principal and retired priest John Pungente, George Topp, Joseph Barker, Fernand Desrochers, Robert MacDougall, Wilfred Harris, John Lepine and William Savoie.
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.