Priest's victims give up the fight

Justice Still owed $2 million

Published on November 22, 2008
Greg Stack

Greg Stack, the lawyer representing 40 people who were sexually abused by Father Kevin Bennett says his clients have decided it's pointless to go after the final $2 million they're owed in their victims' settlement.

Stack said they will accept a final instalment, bringing the total up to $12 million. At that point, each person will have received about 86 per cent of what they were entitled to of the $14-million settlement from St. George's diocese.

Greg Stack, the lawyer representing 40 people who were sexually abused by Father Kevin Bennett says his clients have decided it's pointless to go after the final $2 million they're owed in their victims' settlement.

Stack said they will accept a final instalment, bringing the total up to $12 million. At that point, each person will have received about 86 per cent of what they were entitled to of the $14-million settlement from St. George's diocese.

"We're kind of disappointed that the bishop himself out there has not raised any money and has sort of washed his hands of it," Stack said. "After making a commitment to us 2 1/2 ago that he would move heaven and Earth and raise the money, now he's sort of shrugging his shoulders.

"The church can go out and fundraise, we know they can get money from other dioceses, we know they can get money, ultimately, from Rome if they wanted to. They've chosen to be hard-nosed with this."

Bishop Douglas Crosbie did not return calls requesting an interview.

Despite the victims' decision not to press the diocese into full bankruptcy for the rest of the claim past the Dec. 31, 2008 deadline, Stack says ideally the outstanding debt should be paid.

"They haven't lived up to their word. But to pursue it is going to cost a fair bit of money, probably more than it's worth," he says.

If the settlement had been larger, Stack says they would have a strong legal case against the church because of the business transactions the diocese has used to keep the main church buildings in western Newfoundland, and potentially protect their property from further legal action.

While three dioceses in the United States have been forced into full bankruptcy over sexual assault claims, St. George's will remain in operation because it sought bankruptcy protection.

Through a complicated business transaction, Stack says the church has put itself in a position where the company that now owns its assets is not legally responsible for the actions of the church and its members.

According to the negotiated settlement between the church and the victims, the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of St. George's sold its main churches in Corner Brook, Stephenville and other communities to the Corner Brook Episcopal Lands Corp., a private company started by a number of diocese leaders.

The church then used the money from selling the churches to themselves to pay part of the settlement

"They're still hanging on to everything, and they're left intact," Stack says.

"They've got everything they wanted ... in the name of a different company, but it's still themselves."

Stack said there's also concerns about any future claims that might arise against a church whose assets are held by a private corporation.

"It's like it's a private corporation, it's not the Catholic Church," he said.

"Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of St. George's makes the church answerable to Newfoundland for actions it does as a church, and this means bishops, and supervising priests. I doubt whether a simple private corporation would be liable for those actions, which is why they're probably trying to go that route."

Through a mediated settlement, insurance companies are paying $2.5 million to the church, which will make up part of the final payment, plus another $1.2 million raised by the church.

Stack says that's a fair settlement for the insurance companies, because they figure only 23 per cent of the crimes occurred in times and places where insurance might apply.

The Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of Labrador recently received $1.2 million for the sale of the former Labrador City Collegiate.

Stack said he finds it strangely coincidental that the building was sold for the same amount that St. George's diocese recently indicated it would pay victims.

The Roman Catholic Church has been planning to reorganize the diocese to include Labrador.

While the assets of the Labrador diocese were not included as part of the bankruptcy protection assessment, perhaps they should have been if the two groups have already been merged, Stack said.

nbell@thetelegram.com