Quebec’s Catholic Church is saddened by the fact that legal remedies are being extended to compensate victims of sex abuse, but it questions the greed of the lawyers and claims it does not have the means to pay tens of millions of dollars that she doesn’t have.
• Also read: Victims of pedophile priests grow impatient
During his visit to Quebec in July, Pope Francis apologized for the abuse of minors and called for “strong action”. For more than 2,000 reported victims, the only expected action is expedited resolution of class-action lawsuits.
The Diocese of Québec is itself the target of a class action lawsuit alleging all sexual assaults committed by people under its authority since the 1940s. Plaintiffs are seeking up to $600,000 per victim. About 110 people came. A simple calculation, therefore, leads us to a maximum payout of $66 million, but the number of plaintiffs has been constantly changing for the past two years.
“What I can tell you without starting the process [judiciaire]is that there has always been an openness from the diocese to compensate the victims. [Mais] We have to stop thinking that the Church is extremely rich because it’s completely false, and we have to stop thinking about astronomical amounts,” begins Abbot René Tessier, the diocese’s communications officer, in an interview.
“We could probably indict both parties’ lawyers, but we suspect the amounts in question are among the things that will take time to settle […] There may be lawyers who have completely unrealistic ideas. Don’t think there are tens and millions still available, it’s to dream in color,” elaborates Mr. Tessier.
“Since 2000 there has been a $2 million annual deficit that has forced the diocese to dive into its reserves. And before 2000, we had two funds that could do that [totaliser] around 45 million US dollars,” says Abbé Tessier. However, the diocese has many assets and properties that are exempt from property tax, it should be remembered. Some churches, for example, have great value on paper, Abbé Tessier acknowledges. But nobody wants to buy them, he puts it into perspective.
Me Alain Arsenault, who is involved in 18 lawsuits against religious orders or dioceses in Quebec, including those of Quebec, assures that his aim is not to force anyone into bankruptcy, even if this is a possible consequence.
“Our aim is to compensate the victims as correctly as possible. We can talk, we can analyze and if we’re shown that they don’t have money, that’s one thing… We look at the insurance and then at their property. And if they really don’t have any money, they go broke like everyone else. It will be unfortunate but they will have to pay for the broken pots.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) declined to comment on specific court cases. The CCCB recalls that beyond the apologies, Pope Francis acknowledged that the Church “has not always acted promptly to prevent and respond to clerical sexual abuse”. It must be ensured that this never happens again, they say.
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