The former bishop of Kamloops said a shortage of clergy and a lack of evidence to substantiate “vague” rumours about sexual misconduct prevented him from removing a priest from his diocese in the 1970s.
Adam Exner, who also served as archbishop of Vancouver from 1991 until 2004, testified in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver that it wasn’t until Rosemary Anderson approached him in Kamloops with sexual assault allegations against Father Erlindo Molon in early 1977 that he could take action.
“Then I had hard facts that I could put much more pressure on him to accept help,” said Exner, 90.
Anderson, 70, has filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Kamloops, alleging that Molon raped her 70 to 100 times in 1976 and 1977 when she was teaching at Our Lady of Perpetual Help school in North Kamloops.
The diocese has admitted vicarious liability for Molon’s conduct, but the scope of the liability is at issue.
Anderson has alleged Exner, who was bishop at the time, was aware of a pattern of sexual misconduct involving Molon, but negligent in how he handled it.
Exner is not a named defendant in the case. Molon, 88, who suffers from dementia and lives in Ontario, has filed court documents denying the allegations.
Exner invited Molon to join the Kamloops diocese in 1974.
“I was very short of clergy and I engaged him and he did quite well. People loved him. He was very personable — he would attract people and people were attracted to him,” Exner said.
The rumours of misconduct began shortly after Molon arrived and became active in the parish.
Exner described the rumours as vague insinuations that circulated among parishioners and the clergy.
When asked if he could have known about them as early as 1975, Exner said he did not remember.
“He was misbehaving, he was a playboy,” Exner said, conceding under cross examination that Molon was also likely a predator.
When Exner brought the rumours to Molon, he said the priest didn’t deny them.
“He would just shrug them off and laugh,” Exner said.
Exner said he urged Molon to seek professional help multiple times, but nothing beyond that.
“I needed him too badly. And, secondly, if I removed him, I would have had all the parish on my back. They loved him,” Exner said.
Anderson has testified that the alleged assaults began in late 1976, and took place at the rectory and her apartment. She said Molon took advantage of her and breached the boundaries of the priest-parishioner relationship.
“Obviously, I confronted him and I got the same answer as he always gave: ‘I’m human.’ That was what he’d always say when confronted with rumours,” Exner said.
Exner said Molon refused to get help, but he was allowed to continue preaching until he was suspended around February 1977.
After his suspension, Exner said he had no idea where Molon ended up. He believed Molon was still living in Kamloops and that a family was “harbouring” him.
Exner said that at the time, he did the best he could to deal with Molon.
“I had to balance my judgment — what is more harmful, what is less dangerous? I did what I thought was less dangerous,” he said.
Exner conceded, under questioning from Anderson’s lawyer, Sandra Kovacs, that if he had removed Molon from his post earlier, Anderson would not have been put in the situation that she was.
“It wouldn’t have happened,” Exner said. “But hindsight is always so much easier than foresight.”