7 Nov 2010

Nova Scotia court approves historic $13-million sex abuse settlement between a Catholic diocese and dozens of victims

CBC News - Canada September 10, 2009

Court approves $13M church sex-abuse deal

A Nova Scotia court has approved a $13-million sexual abuse settlement between a Roman Catholic diocese in the province and dozens of victims.

The deal is being hailed as the first time the Roman Catholic Church has apologized and set up a compensation package for people who claimed they were sexually abused by priests without fighting the charges in court.

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice decided Thursday that the settlement agreement is fair and reasonable to both sides.

The agreement, announced by the diocese of Antigonish last month, covers people who claimed they were sexually abused by a priest in the diocese, dating back to 1950.

It was the result of a class-action lawsuit that began after a New Waterford man killed himself in 2002 and left a note stating that he had been abused by a priest.

David Martin's brother, Ronald, vowed to seek justice. He, too, was a victim.

"I made a promise to him to make sure justice was served, and that was a tremendous promise to keep," said Martin.

The lawsuit claimed the church, under instructions from the Pope, had a policy to keep sex-abuse allegations against priests secret, with ex-communication as the penalty.
Formal apology

It also claimed the church, diocese and bishop sent priests from the Antigonish diocese for treatment for "sexual deviations," but kept it secret and didn't protect children.

Last month, Bishop Raymond Lahey announced the settlement of $13 million and formally apologized to the victims and their families.

"I want them to know how terribly sorry we are, how wrong this abuse was, and how we are now trying to right these past wrongs," Lahey said at a news conference in Halifax on Aug. 7.

Lahey also apologized directly to Martin.

John McKiggan, the lawyer behind the class-action suit, called the deal "unprecedented" in Canada.

In New Waterford, parishioners are pleased that victims will finally be compensated, but some aren't happy that parishes are being asked to share the costs, particularly when the diocese has closed five of the six churches in the community in the past year.

"There's not enough money coming into these churches to begin with. The population around here is down and the wages are low here and we just can't afford to begin paying that kind of money out," said churchgoer Ansie MacPherson.

Officials with the diocese acknowledge that it won't be easy, but say the church needs to do what's right and move forward.

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