(photo by pixel2013 from pixabay)(photo by pixel2013 from pixabay)

UPDATE: Catholic Diocese issues statement over sex abuse battle

A woman sexually abused by a priest in Chatham decades ago can't believe the Diocese of London is asking the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn a lower court ruling in her favour.

Irene Deschenes was sexually abused by Father Charles Sylvestre between 1971 and 1973 at St. Ursula School in Chatham. She was just 10-years-old when the abuse started. She filed a lawsuit against the Diocese in 1996 and, in 2000, reached a settlement after the Diocese said it was unaware of concerns about Sylvestre until the 1980s. However, it was later learned that the Diocese was made aware of accusations against Sylvestre in 1962. Deschenes then went to court to have the settlement thrown out and a new lawsuit filed.

Irene Deschenes in 1970s. (Photo courtesy of Advocates for Clergy Trauma Survivors in Canada)

In May, the Ontario Court of Appeal decided to uphold a 2018 court ruling to throw out the earlier settlement. In his 2018 decision, Justice David Aston acknowledged that Deschenes “would not have settled as she did in the fall of 2000 if they had known about the 1962 police reports."

The Diocese is now asking the Supreme Court of Canada to take up the case.

“I'm very disappointed that, once again, the Diocese of London continues to bully victims into submission,” said Irene Deschenes. “Being abused as a little girl by a Roman Catholic priest was harmful enough. That the Diocese continues to use all its vast resources to continue to legally bully me is very painful. I recognize that they have a right to legally defend themselves, but is it the right thing to do?”

Executive Director of the Chatham-Kent Sexual Assault Crisis Centre (CKSACCC) Michelle Schryer said Deschenes has suffered enough without going through more hardship and reliving the terrible abuse.

"While the diocese has the legal right to file for appeal, Ms. Deschenes, other Victims/Survivors, advocates and others are pressing the diocese to take a higher moral ground," Schryer said.

Deschenes reported the sexual abuse to the police in 2004. Dozens of women of all ages then came forward and reported their experiences of abuse by Sylvestre to the police. Sylvestre was arrested, charged, and convicted of 47 counts of historical child sexual abuse. He died in jail in 2007.

The Diocese of London issued a statement late Friday afternoon saying it continues to offer prayers and support to victims of clerical abuse.

"In all cases we believe we have treated victims with the empathy and respect needed to help them receive justice and begin the healing process," said Matthew Clarke, Senior Communications Specialist for the Diocese of London. "Being fair and just means that settlements are reached based on the specific circumstances of each individual case, including that of Irene Deschenes. The Diocese believes there are important legal issues that need to the considered by the Supreme Court.  The Diocese is very much aware of its responsibility to be a good steward of the resources entrusted to it."

The Diocese said it won't make any further comment because the matter is before the courts.

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