27 Nov 2010

Plea for help from survivors of abuse at prestigious Quebec Catholic school rejected because of class-action suit

The Montreal Gazette - Canada March 17, 2010

Letter pleads for help ‘to heal victims’ wounds’

Collège Notre Dame abuse suit; Religious order refuses to cooperate, saying it is awaiting court ruling

By Sue Montgomery, GAZETTE Justice Reporter

France Bédard, president of the Association des victimes de prêtres, rolls out a crime-scene tape during a demonstration outside Collège Notre Dame in February. Photograph by: John Kenney, Gazette file photo

MONTREAL – Victims of alleged sexual abuse at Collège Notre Dame are calling on the prestigious private school and the religious order whose members taught there for help.

In a letter sent last week, a support committee of victims asked that the two institutions help set up a website to inform other alleged victims, organize therapy sessions and contact former students with the use of the school’s old mailing lists.

“We think your co-operation will help heal the victims’ wounds,” wrote Robert Cornellier, the brother of one of the alleged victims, René, who is now now deceased. René attended the college for four years starting when he was 12.

The day after receiving the letter, Jean-Pierre Aumont, the provincial superior of Congrégation Sainte-Croix, flatly refused the request, saying that the Roman Catholic order was awaiting a decision from Quebec Superior Court regarding a class-action suit filed against the school and the order.

Cornellier has also organized an information and support meeting for alleged victims of abuse – about a dozen who have come forward so far – this Saturday at 10 a.m. at 3862 Parc Lafontaine St.

The motion was filed last year by René Cornellier Sr., Robert and René’s father, after an investigation by The Gazette revealed several students were abused by religious brothers who taught at Collège Notre Dame when it was a boys-only boarding school.

The motion claims that the school and order’s authorities not only knew the abuse was taking place since at least 1972, but covered it up “to the detriment of the children in their care.” The motion was filed on behalf of victims who attended the school from 1972 to 2001.

Mylène Forget, spokesperson for the order, and Vincent Grégoire, secretary-general of the college, both said yesterday they will comply with whatever the court decides.

Before his death in 1994, the younger Cornellier wrote letters to the college administrators telling them about the abuse he and his friends allegedly experienced at the hands of Brothers Marcel Lafortune, Roland (only one name given), Claude Hurtubise and Yvanoe Melançon.

One letter read: “In this era, threats were effective. I know that the college was made aware of the problem a number of times, but silence was always maintained regardless of the cost.”

Cornellier Sr. is claiming $70,000 for moral and punitive damages he suffered, as well as a reimbursement of $10,000 in school fees he paid. He’s also claiming $150,000 for his son’s estate.

The motion claims that Brother Charles Smith, who was director of educational services at the time, intimidated Cornellier Jr. into keeping quiet about the abuse.

In doing so, the motion claims, the order and the school put their own interests above those of the children.

The Congrégation Sainte-Croix has deep roots in Quebec – they started and own Collège Notre Dame, as well as other schools. Along with the priests in the order, they own and operate St. Joseph’s Oratory, the great domed church on Queen Mary Rd. that can be seen from much of the city.

The college was founded by the brothers in 1869 as a private boys’ high school that took in boarders, but the last brother to teach there left in 1997. The last principal from the order died in 2003.

Today, it is a private coed high school.

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