A Teslin man is suing the Catholic diocese of Whitehorse as well as a national Catholic organization for $4.25 million in damages over sexual abuse he alleges he suffered at the hands of a now-deceased bishop when he was a teenager.
The man filed a statement of claim to the Yukon Supreme Court on April 9, naming the Catholic Episcopal Corporation of Whitehorse, Les Oblats de Marie Immaculee du Manitoba and OMI Lacombe Canada Inc. as defendants.
The News is choosing to not identify the plaintiff.
According to the statement of claim, the plaintiff grew up in a Catholic household and was a member of the parish of the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Teslin.
The alleged perpetrator, Hubert O’Connor, was ordained as the bishop of Whitehorse in 1971, the lawsuit continues, and was a member of the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, which later became OMI Lacombe.
O’Connor met the plaintiff and his family through the church in 1985.
“O’Connor used his position as the Bishop of the Diocese … to assume a close relationship with the Plaintiff when he was young,” the statement of claim alleges.
“The relationships that O’Connor developed with the Plaintiff, under the guise of a Bishop-parishioner relationship, allowed an opportunity to be alone with the Plaintiff and to exert total control over him, prey upon him and sexually abuse him.”
Using his position of power, the lawsuit alleges, O’Connor “sexually abused, assaulted and molested the Plaintiff” following his confirmation ceremony in 1985, when the plaintiff was 15, on church grounds.
The assault “fundamentally and forever changed” the plaintiff’s behaviour, the statement of claim says, “profoundly and negatively” impacting the course of his life.
“The Plaintiff was deprived of a normal health childhood and adolescence as a result of (O’Connor’s) actions,” the lawsuit alleges, adding that “as a result of the sequelae of the abuse he has had difficulties with authority, has been violent and has suffered drug and alcohol addictions which have caused or materially contributed to the commission of criminal offences for which he has been incarcerated.”
The statement of claim alleges that the defendants knew, or ought to have known about the risk O’Connor posed, especially because there had been complaints of sexual misconduct against him in the past, including a case where he impregnated a female student. While the defendants should have protected the plaintiff and other victims, the lawsuit alleges they allowed O’Connor’s conduct to continue across several jurisdictions and covered it up instead, and are therefore vicariously liable for the assault.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
The plaintiff is seeking $4.25 million in damages, as well as interest and legal costs.
No statements of defence had been filed as of the afternoon April 28.
In an email April 29, Bishop Hector Vila wrote that the Whitehorse diocese’s office “has not been served any legal proceedings or received any documents” regarding the lawsuit and therefore couldn’t comment on the allegations.
However, he added that although “we are not aware of this particular claim, we are aware of previous claims involving then Bishop O’Connor (now deceased).”
“We take allegations of sexual abuse very seriously and will work with any victims to assist in healing and justice,” Vila wrote.
OMI Lacombe Canada did not respond to requests for comment before deadline.
In an interview, lawyer Rob Talach, who’s representing the plaintiff, said his client had no recourse other than turning to the civil law system to seek justice, noting that sexual crimes “never expire” and that “there’s no limitation on this type of justice.”
“O’Connor’s dead, so there’s no criminal route for him there, you know? The Yukon doesn’t have a criminal injuries compensation board or tribunal like some other provinces, so there’s no administrative route,” Talach said.
“For (the plaintiff), he’s at a stage in his life where he’d like to deal with this, he’d like to take it on, he’d like the Church to know he was a victim and I think it’s important in his eyes.”
Talach said it was also important for the “greater public to understand that … this can go all the way to the top.”
“We wonder, ‘Why are there so many priests that do this and why were they transferred and why do they seems to get away with it?’” he said.
“Because, well, duh, some of their bosses were also doing it and here’s a perfect example in Bishop O’Connor.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org