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Quebec religious orders face off over abuse liability

By  François Gloutnay, Catholic News Service
  • November 25, 2022

MONTREAL -- The Grey Nuns of Montreal are asking a court that the Congregation of Holy Cross compensate them should they be required to pay the victims of clergy sexual abuse who are part of a class action authorized against the order of women religious.

The legal question was at the centre of a Nov. 16 court hearing in Montreal involving the two religious orders.

Quebec Superior Court Judge Suzanne Courchesne indicated in authorizing the class action in March that it aimed to include “any person or estate of a deceased person” who claimed to be “a victim of sexual abuse and/or physical abuse and/or psychological abuse while being housed or hosted/received” in any of the three sites operated by the Grey Nuns in the Montreal area.

The sites include the Crèche d’Youville day care, the Notre-Dame de Liesse School and the Montreal Catholic Orphanage.

Courchesne had specified that the abuse could have been committed by nuns, lay staff or “by any other person” to whom a victim could have been entrusted while staying in either institution between 1925 and 1973.

One victim, Jacques Beaulieu, is quoted in court documents as having been physically and psychologically abused by religious and lay personnel while staying at the Notre-Dame de Liesse School operated by the nuns. He said “he was also sexually assaulted by a priest,” referring to the school chaplain.

Court documents detail that on Sundays, the nuns would entrust the boy and a few others to a priest who came to pick them up in his car to “go to Mass.” The documents said that the chaplain used the opportunity to sexually abuse the children.

The priest is identified as Fr. Conrad Larouche, a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, whose members “ensured full religious services” at the Notre-Dame de Liesse School dating to 1918. Larouche was chaplain in 1967 and 1968. He also taught at Collège Saint-Laurent from 1947 to 1967. He died in 2000.

The Grey Nuns’ attorneys contend that if the alleged abuse is proven, the Congregation of Holy Cross will have to “answer for the faults of its employees” and be held “jointly” liable.

Leaders of the congregation of priests and brothers also will be held accountable “for their own omissions and failure to act, whether to prevent said abuse or put an end to them, given they had full authority and power to do so,” stated the legal motion presented by the lawyers representing the Grey Nuns.

The Congregation of Holy Cross issued a statement following the court hearing, saying it “vigorously and unequivocally condemns all inappropriate actions affecting minors and vulnerable persons.”

The congregation declined further comment on the proceeding.

During the four-hour hearing, a crucial legal point was brought to the court’s attention by an attorney for the Congregation of Holy Cross. The attorney said that long before the class action was authorized against the Grey Nuns, the Congregation of Holy Cross already was the subject of a separate class action. In the case, the class of victims includes all persons having been abused by members of the congregation, including Larouche. The fact that he is mentioned in two class actions leads to a series of disputes that a second Quebec Superior Court judge will have to settle.

The court must determine whether any victim is entitled to two sets of compensation if both class actions were approved.

Another question also must be decided: If the court excludes victims of the Congregation of Holy Cross from the class action against the Grey Nuns, would these victims not incur a new injustice if the action against the Congregation of Holy Cross was rejected and the one against the Grey Nuns accepted?

Judge Pierre Nollet has said he intends to announce his decision in January.

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