The Roman Catholic Diocese of Kamloops will pay a former schoolteacher $844,140 in damages as a result of a sexual assault case ruling in a B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.
Rosemary Anderson filed a lawsuit against the church, alleging she was sexually assaulted more than 40 years ago by Father Erlindo Molon after she was hired as a teacher at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help school in North Kamloops in the fall of 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.
What followed, court heard, was a sexual relationship perpetuated by Molon that carried on for months, during which Anderson said she was exploited, felt trapped and was unaware of how to end it.
Anderson, who was 26 at the time and is now 70, testified they had sexual intercourse 70 to 100 times over the course of the affair. By the spring of 1977, she sought the advice of then-Kamloops Bishop Adam Exner, who opted to try to keep the scandal quiet. Molon was eventually suspended and forced to leave the Diocese, but Anderson said Exner advised her that she also needed to leave Kamloops.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice David Crossin, who presided over the trial, found Molon’s conduct was an egregious and reprehensible abuse of power.
“He exploited the vulnerability of a young woman entrusted to his care to engage in a prolonged and repeated course of sexual exploitation,” Crossin said. “His conduct was clearly wrong by the standards of any time. He also demonstrated a brazen indifference to the harm caused by his actions.”
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Crossin said punitive damages against the Diocese was merited based on its direct liability in negligence as the church failed Anderson profoundly in a moment of great need.
Exner was aware of troubling rumours about Molon’s other exploits as early as the spring of 1976, which were all but confirmed when he confronted the priest about the Anderson relationship, Crossin said, adding he knew Molon’s conduct put the spiritual and psychological well-being of his parishioners at risk.
“He chose not to act as he himself admitted. This resulted in a serious violation of trust,” Crossin said. “It was, in my view, a purposeful and reprehensible omission, which merits the condemnation of the court.”
Anderson was awarded $275,000 in non-pecuniary damages, punitive damages against defendant Erlindo Molon totalling $250,000, punitive damages against the church totalling $150,000, $125,000 in loss of past income, $25,000 for cost of future care and special damages in the sum of $19,140.
The amount awarded to Anderson was below the $2.4 million she had been seeking, but well above the $60,000 settlement the church had sought.
In a statement, Anderson said she is grateful her lawsuit uncovered the truth behind Molon’s misdeeds.
“The church knew he was a problem before I ever moved to Kamloops, yet they did nothing,” Anderson said.
She said if not for the failings of the church, she would have never been harmed by Molon and lived for 40 years burdened with immense shame and a sense of low self-worth that impacted her life in every way.
She said she hopes the settlement forces the Roman Catholic church to recognize the error of its ways.
Anderson’s lawyer, Sandra Kovacs, said victims of sexual assault are often reluctant to move forward with cases for fear of being re-traumatized by the process, noting it takes tremendous courage to proceed to trial, particularly against the powerful and well-funded Roman Catholic Church.
“I commend Ms. Anderson for her bravery,” Kovacs said in a statement. “She has done a service to countless other victims of clergy sexual abuse, most notably adult victims of abuse and exploitation, her case being the first adult victim case involving Catholic clergy in Canada. Mr. Justice Crossin’s judgment puts to rest any suggestion that sexual contact between a spiritual leader and a vulnerable parishioner has the capacity to be consensual, and this is a victory,”
In the majority of cases, Anderson said, sexual violence against women is committed by a known and trusted individual, not at the hands of a stereotypical hooded stranger in an alleyway.
“There could be no greater trust by a young woman than in her community’s spiritual leader, in my case a Roman Catholic priest,” Anderson said. “The fact that a rapist is known to his victim does not diminish the rapist’s culpability nor does it diminish the harm caused to the victim.”