4 Nov 2010

Nova Scotia diocese agrees to historic settlement in clergy abuse cases

The Globe and Mail - Canada August 7, 2009

N.S. diocese reaches $13-million settlement in abuse case

Church official apologizes to victims, families, says agreement first step in recognizing abuse

by Alison Auld | Canadian Press

A Roman Catholic diocese in Nova Scotia reached an historic agreement with known and alleged victims of sexual abuse by its priests, announcing a $13-million settlement Friday for the decades old claims.

Bishop Raymond Lahey of the Antigonish diocese, where the abuse is alleged to have occurred, said the agreement is the first step in recognizing the alleged abuse of children as young as eight years old.

“I want to formally apologize to every victim and to their families for the sexual abuse that was inflicted on them,” he said at a news conference in Halifax.

“Money can never compensate fully, but we are trying ... to be fair, responsible, respectful and, most of all, compassionate.”

The diocese had been named in a class-action lawsuit last year, along with the Roman Catholic Church, saying they kept the assaults secret and failed to warn or protect children.

The lawsuit was launched last year by Ronald Martin, whose brother wrote a suicide note in 2002 that led to charges of sex crimes against a priest from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish.

Mr. Martin said he had mixed emotions about the settlement Friday, but was pleased that it might mean people who were abused and have kept it secret will finally tell their stories.

“I want to say to the many people out there who have suffered from this horrible situation that I understand your pain,” said Mr. Martin, who also alleged abuse by the same priest who was accused in his brother's case.

“I want to encourage you to come forward to enter into this process and let us help you find some peace.”

The former priest, Hugh Vincent MacDonald, was eventually charged with rape, buggery and indecent assault involving 18 children between the ages of eight and 15.

Mr. MacDonald, who served in various parishes in Pictou, Guysborough and Antigonish, was facing 27 charges when he died in 2004.

The firm that prepared the suit said the settlement would compensate all people who were allegedly sexually assaulted by any priest of the Catholic Episcopal Corp. of Antigonish since Jan. 1, 1950.

John McKiggan, the lawyer who initiated the suit, said settlements aren't usually arrived at through this process. Typically, churches have fought the claims until they declare bankruptcy or the alleged victims give up, he said.

“This is an extraordinary, extraordinary resolution of claims against the church that is unprecedented in Canada and I think in North America,” he said.

“This is an historic occasion. It's something we've never seen in Canada.”

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