Notre-Dame Cathedral, the seat of Ottawa's archbishop, as seen from Major's Hill Park in 2008. A deceased man's estate is filing a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Ottawa for sexual abuse. Photo/courtesy of Lezumbalaberenjena, Wikimedia Commons

Estate of dead man files lawsuit against Ottawa archdiocese for sexual abuse

  • September 15, 2016

OTTAWA – The Archdiocese of Ottawa is withholding comment on a $2-million lawsuit launched by the estate of a man who, according to his wife, claimed on his death bed that he had been sexually abused by a priest in the 1960s.

The case of the man identified as “John Doe” was filed in August by Robert Talach, a lawyer who has represented many sexual abuse claimants against the Catholic Church.

According to a report in the Ottawa Citizen, “John Doe” claimed to his wife that he was abused by Fr. Jean Gravel, a priest at Ottawa’s Saint-Remi parish. “Doe” died in 2014.

Gravel pleaded guilty in 1967 to gross indecency charges involving two teenaged boys. In a rare move for that time, Archbishop Joseph -Aurèle Plourde appealed to the Vatican to have Gravel removed from the clerical state in 1970. Gravel committed suicide in 1980. Plourde died in 2013.

According to the Citizen, court documents indicate that “John Doe” was one of the priest’s teenaged victims involved in the 1967 criminal case. His wife told the Citizen she only became aware of the alleged abuse when her husband spoke about it before he died.

According to the Citizen, Doe’s widow “launched the lawsuit on his behalf to gain recognition for his suffering.”

“I think it gives a sense of meaning for what he went through,” she said in an interview. “I think he told me for a reason: because he wanted, at some point, for the Church to be responsible.”

Talach told the Citizen this type of lawsuit by someone’s estate is the first of its kind. It is the fourth lawsuit since the newspaper published a series on historical sexual abuse cases involving the archdiocese earlier this year.

While the archdiocese declined to comment, the Catholic Civil Rights League issued a statement.

“The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) abhors the abuse of children,” said league president Phil Horgan. “Sex abuse committed against children by anybody, and especially those that may hold a position of trust, needs to be addressed vigourously, whether via the criminal or civil legal standards. The league stands with the victims.”

“At the same time, those accused of such offences are entitled to a defence,” Horgan said. “That is particularly true of older claims such as the variety now put forward in this case. The legal process will address the claims as they are advanced.

“The prospect of a dead person’s family seeking recovery from another dead person may well stretch the process beyond what it can reasonably accommodate, in the absence of available evidence,” he said.

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