Articles Posted in Antigonish Diocese Class Action

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In May former Antigonish Bishop Raymond Lahey pleaded guilty to pssession of child pornography. Lahey surprised the court by voluntarily asking to be incarcerated while waiting for his sentencing hearing.

I have already speculated about the reasons behind this move Lahey Pleads Guilty to Possession of Child Pornography

On Friday Lahey was supposed to be back in court for his sentencing hearing. But the hearing has now been delayed because the psychiatrist hired to conduct a psychological examinaition has not provided a copy of his clinical file to the Crown Prosecutors.

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Today former Antigonish Diocese Bishop Raymond Lahey pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography.

He pleaded not guilty to possession for the purposes of distribution.

It seems likely that Lahey’s lawyers have worked out a deal with the Crown regarding sentencing.

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Tonight on CBC’s 5th Estate Linden MacIntyre explores the effects of the Antigonish Diocese Sexual Abuse Class Action.

The documentary is airing on CBC television at 9pm here in Atlantic Canada.

Betrayal: How Nova Scotia’s Catholic Church is trying to pay it’s debts to abuse victims.

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Pope “Begs” for Forgiveness

Pope%20Benedict.jpgAt a mass with some 15,000 priests marking the end of the Roman Catholic Church’s Year for Priests, the Pope asked for forgiveness from victims of priest sexual abuse:

“We … insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again,”

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Millions of Canadians know someone who has been sexually abused by a priest according to an Ipsos Reid survey released today.

2 Million Canadians Know Abuse Victims

According to study conducted for Canwest News Service, at least 2 million Canadians claim to know someone who has been sexually abused by a Catholic priest. This is an extraordinary, and disturbing, finding. Sexual abuse is a crime of secrecy. Many survivors, perhaps the majority, never tell anyone about the abuse they have suffered. If there are 2 million Canadians who claim to personally know a survivor of priest sexual abuse, then one has to be concerned that the actual number of victims is much higher.

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I have been invited to speak at the Canadian Institute’s Ninth National Summit on Institutional Liability for Sexual Assault and Abuse.

My presentation is Overcoming Key Hurdles in Bringing and Defending Child Sexual Assault and Abuse Claims.

The conference is taking place in Toronto April 7-8, 2010.

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This months cover story in Canadian Lawyer magazine is about Ron Martin’s class action against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish.

You can read the story online.

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Justice David MacAdam has released his written reasons certifying Ron Martin’s class action against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish and approving the settlement agreement to compensate victims of priest sexual abuse.

His Lordship Justice MacAdam reviewed in detail the requirements for certification and settlement approval. At paragraph 63 of his decision Justice MacAdam concluded:

I am satisfied on the basis of the submissions and evidence that the action meets the criteria for certification pursuant to ss. 6 and 7 of the Class Proceedings Act.

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In 2002, Ronald Martin received a telephone call that his brother, David Martin, had been missing in the woods of British Columbia for 2 weeks. Sixteen days later David’s body was found, with a suicide note stating he had taken his life because he could not endure the pain caused by sexual abuse he had suffered as a child at the hands of Father Hugh Vincent MacDonald, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Antigonish.

A Promise

Ron Martin had been sexually abused by the same priest but neither brother was aware of what the other had suffered. On the day that Ron Martin had to identify his brother’s body, he made a promise that there would be accountability for the abuse they had suffered.

A Difficult Journey

David Martin’s death was the start of an arduous journey for Ron Martin. After learning there were many other victims, all suffering as he and his brother did, all needing justice and accountability from the Church, Ron decided to file a class action against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish and Bishop Raymond Lahey.

Historic Settlement

After months of emotionally draining negotiations, Ron Martin and the Diocese reached an historic agreement to compensate anyone who had been sexually abused by priests of the Diocese between 1950 and 2009.

Dignified Process

The class action settlement creates a dignified, confidential and fair process that:

• Required the Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish to publicly acknowledge its responsibility to victims of sexual abuse and apologize for its role in failing to protect children from sexually abusive priests;

• Creates a fund of up to 15 million dollars to provide survivors with compensation without having to be re-victimized by the rigours of a public trial;

• Creates a streamlined, faster process to determine compensation;

• Requires the Diocese to give up legal defences that have been used to defeat victim’s claims in the past.

Court Approves the Settlement

The settlement was approved by the Honourable Justice David MacAdam of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. His Lordship found that the settlement was fair, reasonable and in the best interest of class members. The Supreme Court has an ongoing responsibility to supervise the settlement to ensure survivors are treated fairly.

Confidentiality Key for Survivors

Confidentiality is a cornerstone of the agreement – not for the benefit of the Church which has publicly admitted its wrong doing, but for the benefit of the victims.

Many class members have never told their family or friends that they were sexually abused. They do not want this information becoming public. The confidentiality of the process means that victims do not have to fear the threat of public disclosure.

Furthermore, the confidentiality of the settlement does not bind class members. So survivors are free to talk publicly about their claims if they wish.

Choice is Important

Choice is also an important part of the settlement. The class action settlement provides sexual abuse survivors with a choice that they did not have before.

There may be survivors who chose the adversarial approach of litigation. If a survivor wants to file an individual lawsuit, they must file an “opt out” form with the Diocese by December 4, 2009.

Canada’s civil justice system may be one of the best in the world, but litigation is still time consuming, expensive and emotionally draining.

Public Trials can Re-Victimize Survivors

Public trials require victims of sexual abuse to relive their most painful and traumatic memories in the public eye. Simply put, traditional litigation is a battle that many victims of sexual abuse are not emotionally or psychologically capable of surviving.

Church Usually Fights Survivors

The Catholic Church is well aware of the challenges survivors of sexual abuse face in litigation. The traditional approach by the church has been to fight survivor’s claims vigorously. In Newfoundland, despite the findings of the Mount Cashel inquiry, the Diocese of St. John’s has been fighting lawsuits filed by victims of convicted sex abuser Father Jim Hickey for the past 11 years.

Declare Bankruptcy rather than Compensate Survivors?

In the United States seven catholic dioceses have declared bankruptcy rather than agree to compensate survivors. In Canada the catholic diocese of St. George’s declared bankruptcy after being sued by victims of convicted sex abuser Father Kevin Bennett.

In negotiating the settlement Ron Martin had to consider that the Diocese of Antigonish does not have unlimited financial resources. Every dollar spent fighting survivors’ is a dollar that cannot be spent to compensate survivors.

Class Members Protected

A major concession made by the Diocese in the class action was to provide a security agreement on all it’s property to guarantee it’s financial obligations to the members of the class action.

If they do not opt out, survivors are automatically eligible to participate in the class action.

Application Dates

Survivors must apply for compensation by March 10, 2010. The time to apply may be extended to September 6, 2010 with permission of the Court.

Class Action a Victory for Survivors

The criticism leveled against the class action settlement is essentially that the class action is different from traditional litigation. That is true – and we see that as a victory for survivors.

Survivors Will Decide What is Best

Survivors should decide for themselves how they want to resolve their claims. In the end, each survivor will decide what is best for them: a public trial, or the confidentiality of the class action settlement.

A Better Way

Ron Martin and I believe that the settlement provides a better way for survivors of sexual abuse to receive compensation and closure in a safer way than traditional litigation. The process is dignified, confidential and fair.

Keeping a Promise

This settlement is not about the church; it is about the children who were sexually abused. It is about helping them achieve closure and accountability. It is about finding a way for survivors and the church to move forward. Last but not least, it is about Ron Martin fulfilling the promise he made to his brother David.
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