6 Jan 2011

Quebec man who was abused for years by Holy Cross order as teen breaks confidentiality agreement to expose cruelty

Montreal Gazette - Canada October 22, 2010

Man who was abused at Montreal's Collège Notre Dame speaks out


A man who was sexually abused while he was a student at College Notre Dame is speaking out for the first time, years after the school paid him a $250,000 settlement in exchange for his silence.

In return the school promised that the brothers who abused him would no longer work in a position where they had access to children. But the former student recently found out that the school broke that agreement.

And while for years the victim believed the school's claim that his abuse was an isolated case, more victims have stepped forward.

Every Sunday evening, Daniel sat silently in the front seat of his mother's car as it pulled up to the boarding school's imposing building on Queen Mary Rd., his stomach churning with anxiety.

English teacher Brother Olivain Leblanc had begun to take an interest in Daniel when he was in Grade 8, just entering adolescence. Leblanc had invited the youngster to take private guitar lessons in his apartment above the school gymnasium. For the boy whose father had died suddenly on Christmas Eve a few years earlier, the attention from an older man was initially welcome.

"Here was a brother who took an interest in me, cared about me," Daniel recalls. "He was a friend and confidant."

But once Leblanc had Daniel's trust and admiration firmly in place, he began to abuse him.

Asking his mother to transfer him to another school would have required Daniel to explain what Leblanc and, later, two other brothers had done to him. So he kept quiet, enduring numerous painful encounters for three years.

"Now, I see that I was the brothers' personal sex object, the way I was passed around among them," Daniel said in a recent interview.

The abuse against Daniel started in 1978, when he was 13, and lasted until 1981.

A decade after the abuse, his life in ruins, Daniel turned to the Congregation Holy Cross, the Roman Catholic order to which the brothers at the college belonged, and revealed his secret.

In 1993, the college's director, afraid of the damage such a scandal would cause but against the advice of his superiors, handed over $250,000 in school funds, some of which was public money, to save the institution's reputation. And just to be sure the dark secret would remain under wraps, they made Daniel sign a confidentiality agreement.

The agreement stipulated that the implicated brothers were never to be in a position that would allow them access to adolescents. Yet Olivain Leblanc was shipped off to Rwanda to live with adolescents wanting to join the order. After his return, Leblanc was sent to Toronto, where his position also gave him access to youths.

Daniel was outraged recently when he learned where Leblanc was sent.

Although the agreement stipulated that the transaction was not an admission of wrongdoing by the brothers, at the beginning of this month, under pressure from media reports, the congregation apologized "for the suffering caused by those who have abused their position of trust and authority."

"These acts should never have occurred," Father Jean-Pierre Aumont, Canadian Provincial Superior of the Congregation of Holy Cross, said in a statement.

The congregation categorically denied "that out of court settlements were used to protect those responsible for misconducts.

"We have concluded out of court settlements with some victims only to compensate their suffering, to the extent possible," Aumont wrote.

This week, the order referred all questions about the scandal to the public relations firm it has recently hired to handle the fall out. It said the brothers would make no further statement.

Until now, Daniel, now a man of 45, has lived a solitary life, wrestling with the psychological afteraffects of what he experienced mostly with Leblanc, and to a lesser degree with two other brothers.

He has bounced from dead-end job to dead-end job, while many of his former classmates graduated from the prestigious school and went on to enjoy comfortable lives as engineers, lawyers, doctors and entertainers.

Unable to bear the pain of the enforced silence any longer, Daniel has agreed to tell his story but not to reveal his name.

"I live outside of society, and am difficult to reach," he said. "That's what they did to me with this agreement."

Born the youngest of five children, Daniel attended the prestigious Mont-Jésus-Marie elementary private school in Outremont, starting him on the path of what his family thought would be a solid Catholic education. Collège Notre Dame, the private boys' school facing the order's St. Joseph's Oratory, would be the next step.

"My dream was always to go to Collège Notre Dame," Daniel said, adding that he was attracted by the top-notch sports facilities. "But without knowing it, this dream would take me to an institution that would throw me into hell and destroy my future."

In his second year at the school, Daniel was drawn to Leblanc's artistic and musical side, and remembers being so in awe of the teacher that he raved about him to his family when he went home to Laval on weekends.

Leblanc spoiled the student with alcohol, cigarettes and television - vices that were off limits to other students.

"When I went to his apartment, I felt secure," he said. "In my innocent mind, it was paradise."

That sense of security paved the way for Leblanc to ease Daniel into sexual touching and oral sex, confusing the adolescent about his own sexual orientation.

Daniel kept the two quarters his mother gave him every weekend in his pants pocket and called home every Tuesday and Thursday. His mother's voice at the other end of the line became a comfort even though his conflicting feelings of shame and admiration held him back from telling her what was happening.

Daniel estimates Olivain Leblanc abused him sexually more than 100 times - once or twice a week over the three-year period.

Leblanc, reached at the brothers' retirement home in Laval yesterday, said: "I have nothing to say about that, Madame" before hanging up.

One day while Daniel was at the college, another brother, Ellery Leblanc, approached him and said he'd been informed by Olivain Leblanc that he played guitar very well. Maybe the student would come to Ellery Leblanc's room sometime to play for him?

When Daniel went to the brother's room, he was asked to help him with some physical exercises. A detailed report given by Daniel to the order's former lawyer says that Leblanc then tried to sodomize him. Daniel refused.

On another occasion, a third brother who has since left the order hugged Daniel in Olivain Leblanc's apartment, then kissed him. Olivain Leblanc intervened, telling the brother to calm down, "that there would be other times for that," documents obtained by The Gazette show.

Ellery Leblanc didn't respond to messages left by the Gazette yesterday. Neither did Charles Smith, the brother who signed the 1993 transaction between Daniel and the college.

In 2006, the order's then-lawyer wrote: "The details given by (Daniel) all checked out. Brother Olivain Leblanc later on admitted having had sexual relationships with (Daniel). So did Ellery Leblanc."

In his final year at the college, Daniel, who had been an elite athlete and often team captain at the school, was suddenly expelled, allegedly for taking drugs, and sent to Collège St. Césaire, another school run by the brothers. Daniel admits today that he used drugs to mask his pain and conflicting feelings, and his marks began to drop.

"But they never called my parents to talk to them about it, because they thought I'd tell them what was going on and they didn't want that," he said.

He ended up completing high school in 1982, and drifted for rest of the decade, often ending up on the street. At his lowest point, between 1985 and 1989, Daniel claims he returned to the congregation several times for help and the brothers willingly provided money, shelter and food - in exchange for sex.

Finally, in November 1991, documents obtained by the Gazette show, Daniel met with Brother Charles Smith, the director of studies at the college at the time. A few days later, Daniel met with Réginald Robert, director of the college.

The former student then spoke on the phone with the college's lawyer at the time.

The two later met at Chez Vito Restaurant in Côte des Neiges and for over four hours, Daniel described in painful detail what happened to him during his years at Notre Dame. All of it is contained in a nine-page document written by the lawyer and addressed to Réginald Robert, president of the board of directors and head of the school.

The lawyer, who cannot be named, left the order's employment after hearing Daniel's story.

"I don't get the impression that this person, with whom I spent one hour on the phone and four hours and 15 minutes at a table with, is lying to me," was the lawyer's conclusion. "This is an age when one is extremely impressionable and is developing one's character," he wrote. "It's surprising that he's not more messed up."

Documents from the order indicate that Father Claude Grou, who was Superior General at the time and is now rector of St. Joseph's Oratory, sent notice to the college not to pay the former student. The Provincial Superior, Raymond Lamontagne, gave the same instructions. But Charles Smith, who had in the meantime become director of the college, ignored their directions. He told Daniel to get a lawyer. Smith, who is now a provincial councillor of the body that governs the order in Quebec, cut a cheque for $250,000. He informed the school's board of directors after the fact.

In exchange for $250,000, a significant chunk of which went to Daniel's lawyer, a document was signed by both parties, legally gagging Daniel. The transaction appeared on the college's books as "payment for professional services."

Daniel says that in 2004, unable to get his life on track, he returned to the college to speak to its director at the time, Yvon Lafrenière.

"I needed help, a job, not money," Daniel said. "I needed security to help me rebuild and regain my trust in the brothers, in mankind."

Daniel also appealed via email to Father Hugh Cleary, the order's superior in Rome at the time.

Three months later, Cleary wrote in an email that he was sad about what had happened, but that the civil transaction had closed the case and there was nothing more they could do.

Yet only a year before, in 2003, when Olivain Leblanc was preparing to move back to Montreal from Toronto and into the brothers' retirement home, he received an offer from the order for help for his drinking problem.

"Will it be necessary for you to see a psychologist or therapist?" Donald Nadeau, secretary of the provincial council, the body that runs the congregation, wrote to Leblanc in a welcome letter, which was obtained by The Gazette. "Don't hesitate. We already have brothers in the home who take advantage of these benefits."

Nadeau also offered Leblanc positions as an organist and pastry chef.

"We want your return to Quebec to be as enjoyable for you as for us," Nadeau wrote.

After an in-depth story about the abuse published in the Gazette two years ago, the family of one of the victims, René Cornellier, who has since died, filed for permission to launch a class-action suit. Recently, Radio-Canada broadcast the story, prompting more victims to come forward.

"I'm not surprised at all about all the cases, but very sad," Daniel said. "Brother Smith told me I was an isolated case and now I'm learning that there are many more."

Collège Notre Dame, now a co-ed school, is still owned by the brothers, although they no longer work there.

This article was found at:



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