The diocese of Antigonish has also had to borrow $2 million in bridge financing to make its second payment on a $15 million class-action settlement reached in 2009. Photo by Michael Swan

More victims than expected make claims against Antigonish diocese

By 
  • January 25, 2012

Money for sexual abuse victims in the diocese of Antigonish is being spread thinner than expected as the number of people seeking compensation has grown to about 140.

At the same time, the diocese of Antigonish has had to borrow $2 million in bridge financing to make its second payment on a $15 million class-action settlement reached in 2009.

The unexpected number of claimants, plus a number of victims who have opted out of the settlement to pursue individual lawsuits, could have triggered a collapse of the 2009 settlement. Victims had the option of withdrawing from the class action if it exceeded more than 70 claims. The diocese had the option to withdraw if anyone “opted out,” said John McKiggan, the lawyer for class action plaintiffs.

“Both sides (the diocese and the class members) decided not to withdraw from the class action and to proceed with the settlement process,” said McKiggan in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

At the current number of claims, victims will receive about 62 per cent of what they would have collected if the class action had gathered just 80 victims.

Victims should be admired for their courage and their willingness to stick with the class action settlement, said Fr. Paul Abbass, the diocese’s vicar for pastoral services.

“They have said this is not just about money,” said Abbass. “Money is not going to bring us the kind of reconciliation and the kind of healing we’re looking for.”

Continuing to reach out to victims remains a priority of the diocese, said Abbass. “We want to acknowledge that this terrible crime happened,” he said.

Raising the money to pay for the settlement has been a challenge, but Abbass remains confident real estate sales and the pending sale of the diocese’s 62-per-cent stake in Casket Printing and Publishing 2006 Ltd. will be sufficient to avoid bankruptcy.

“When you are selling a couple hundred properties and you have a very timelined parameter around that, there’s no guarantee that buyers are going to buy in my timeline,” said Abbass. “There’s no guarantee, but we know the value is in the land. We remain confident we can do it.”

The diocese has so far sold 75 out of about 250 properties it has identified for sale.

“There’s been bidding for all the properties sold so far. We’ve really gotten fair market value. This has not been a great market,” Abbass said.

The Casket, one of the community newspapers owned by Casket Printing and Publishing, reports that sale of the diocese’s shares in the company may be completed by mid-February. The diocese of Antigonish made its first payment of $3.6 million to the class action settlement May 31, 2011. A second $4.2 million installment was made Nov. 1. The next payment will also be $4.2 million. The class action fund includes up to $400,000 to pay for counselling and treatment for victims.

When the settlement was first negotiated in 2009 by then Bishop Raymond Lahey, the diocese borrowed $1 million from the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Martha. The diocese has not yet begun repaying that debt, Abbass told The Casket.

When the class action was certified the eventual number of victims was unknown. At that point 24 people had filed individual claims, said McKiggan.

“The only confidentiality in the class action is on the diocese. Class members are free to disclose which priests abused them and what happened to them if they wish to do so,” said McKiggan.

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