A former schoolteacher who alleges she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a Catholic priest in Kamloops more than 40 years ago is seeking a record $2.4 million in damages for such cases in B.C.
Rosemary Anderson claims Father Erlindo Molon committed the assaults against her after she was hired as a teacher at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help school in North Kamloops in 1976.
She testified that, at the time, she was grieving the death of her father and seeking spiritual guidance from the priest, who is now 88 years old and suffering from dementia.
In final submissions at Anderson’s civil trial this week, her lawyer, Sandra Kovacs, outlined the quantum of damages being sought from the defendant, the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Kamloops.
Anderson, who was 26 years old when she claims she was sexually assaulted dozens of times and is now 70, wants $425,000 for pain and suffering, $500,000 for punitive damages and $1.5 million for past wage loss.
The trial judge, B.C. Supreme Court Justice David Crossin, was told the largest award in a sexual assault case in B.C. was $325,000 in 2008. But Kovacs told the judge he has a chance to send a “very powerful” message to the church that this kind of conduct cannot happen again in this jurisdiction.
Kovacs said Molon’s superior, then-Bishop Adam Exner, was aware of allegations surrounding Molon, but had failed to properly investigate the claims. Exner, who later served as Archbishop of Vancouver from 1991 to 2004, testified he met with Anderson at least once over her claims that she had been abused by Molon.
Anderson claims the abuse continued and only came to an end after Exner transferred Molon to a new posting in Ontario around May 1977.
“What was happening and what Exner clearly admitted is that he was seeking to avoid scandal,” Kovacs told the judge. “He wanted to keep this quiet. He did not want to corrupt parishioners with the knowledge of what Molon had been doing in the spring of 1976.”
Kovacs said Exner admitted he deliberately wanted to avoid publishing what he knew about Molon.
“He prioritized the reputation of the church above the safety interests of the parishioners. That is a breach of his fiduciary duties,” Kovacs said.
The diocese has admitted liability at the trial, conceding that consent for sexual relations between Molon and Anderson was vitiated by the power imbalance inherent in the priest-parishioner relationship. But the diocese is expected to argue that Anderson is only entitled to a much smaller damages award.
John Hogg, a lawyer for the diocese, earlier in the trial argued that Exner was not negligent during the course of his duties as Molon’s superior.
This week, he objected to the possibility Exner might be added as a defendant in the case, saying it is unfair and unjust at this stage of the proceedings to do so.
Kovacs told the judge the problems for her client were compounded by what she described as a “culture of secrecy” in the church.
“That culture unfortunately is pervasive throughout the church and certainly existed in this case as well,” she said.
Kovacs said the secrecy enabled Molon to be free to repeatedly abuse Anderson and other women in the community with impunity.
Molon, who is now in a care home in Kingston, Ont., was initially named as a defendant in the case with his litigation guardian, the Ontario Public Guardian and Trustee, filing court documents denying the allegations. But neither Molon nor any lawyers acting on his behalf have shown up in court.