Warning: This story contains accounts of sexual abuse that may be disturbing for some readers
A Surrey man who says he was groomed and sexually assaulted by a priest and teacher at North Vancouver’s Holy Trinity Elementary School in the 1970s is suing the Catholic Church for negligence for failing to identify and stop the abuse.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver is named as a defendant in the lawsuit along with the estates of former priest John Kilty and a former teacher and coach.
In a response to the suit filed last summer on behalf of “John Doe,” the archdiocese admitted abuses took place but denied it was negligent or acted in “any high-handed, malicious, arbitrary or highly reprehensible manner” that could make it liable for damages. It also said Doe was not necessarily a target of the abuse.
The plaintiff Doe went to the elementary school during the 1974-75 year and says he was groomed, manipulated and sexually assaulted by a priest and teacher, including fondling, forced fellatio and anal intercourse. He also claims a teacher made threats to harm him and that a priest drugged him.
Doe says in the notice of civil claim he was also a parishioner at Holy Trinity Church, an assertion the church denies in its response.
Doe’s father died in a workplace accident in 1974, leaving his mother a widow with five young children, who were enrolled at Holy Trinity, where Doe claims he was abused by a priest and teacher.
The lawsuit alleges the priest and a teacher, who it claims had pedophiliac and other deviant sexual tendencies, worked in concert to befriend and groom vulnerable boys, using their roles at the school and parish to gain their trust and that of their families and community.
The suit says the church knew, or should have known, of the risk the pair posed to young children, and that the abuse against Doe was the result of the defendants’ “gross negligence, negligence, wilful blindness, recklessness and/or breach of fiduciary duty.”
The plaintiff cites a lengthy list of injuries from the abuse including moral and spiritual injury, bouts of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, impaired ability to be intimate with others and to experience sexual enjoyment, inability to trust others, impaired psychological development, low self-esteem, fits of rage and impulsivity, and nightmares.
The church’s response denies it knew or should have known of the danger the priest and teacher posed to children, and that any injury caused to the plaintiff by the two was unforeseeable.
The response says in December 2020, the church publicly acknowledged that Kilty — who served as pastor at Holy Trinity from about 1948 to 1982 — had been credibly accused of historical sexual abuse. But it says it became aware of those accusations beginning in 2003, 20 years after Kilty’s death.
The lawsuit notes the plaintiff doesn’t know the teacher’s whereabouts or whether he is alive or dead.
The church also rejects the allegation that it turned a blind eye to abuse at the school and parish.
“The defendant denies that there was an operational culture that enabled the defendants … to sexually abuse male children who were students of Holy Trinity Elementary School and parishioners at Holy Trinity Parish.”
Even if there was such a culture, the response says, the church “denies that it was complicit in it or otherwise acted negligently as alleged …”
“The defendant categorically denies that its employees, agents, servants, or others for whom it is responsible, knew or ought to have known the plaintiff was at risk of harm and, further deny that they were required to, or failed to take any reasonable steps to prevent any such harm.”
The church says if the plaintiff was victimized, he failed to take steps to mitigate the effects of the abuse, such as counselling, medication and treatment. It also alleges Doe engaged in “conduct or activities that impeded recovery.”
None of the allegations in the lawsuit has been proven in court. A four-week Supreme Court civil trial is set to begin on Monday in New Westminster.
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