Off the hook

Province found not liable in case of alleged sexual abuse by priest

Rosie Mullaley
Published on February 2, 2011
Ronald Bromley

WARNING: This story contains graphic content.

The provincial government has been found not liable in a case of sexual abuse alleged by a former boys’ home resident.

In a decision released Monday, Newfoundland Supreme Court Justice James Adams dismissed the claim by Louis Rich.

Adams ruled Rich failed to prove allegations that he had been sexually assaulted by Roman Catholic priest Father Ronald Bromley in the 1970s while he was a resident of the Whitbourne Boys’ Home.

The judge determined not only did Rich fail to prove his claims of sexual abuse, but even if he had, the province would not have been legally responsible.

“In all,” Adams said in his ruling, “I find that Louis Rich has not led evidence sufficient to satisfy me on the balance of probabilities that he was sexually assaulted by Ronald Bromley in the manner he alleges, or at all.

“On this basis alone, Mr. Rich’s claim must be dismissed.”

Moreover, the judge ruled, Rich still failed to prove that the province should be held vicariously liable for the actions of a volunteer priest over whom it exercised no direction or control.

“There was no evidence led on what the standard of care was at the time in the 1960s and 1970s,” Adams said.

“Nor was there any evidence that the (home’s) director, the superintendent or any other person knew of anything which would lead them to believe that Ronald Bromley would commit the acts alleged by Mr. Rich.”

After all, Adams added, clergy at that time were held in very high regard and Bromley had been presented as a respectable person “who simply wanted to help disadvantaged children turn their lives around.”

Rich — born in Sheshatshiu, Labrador, and a member of the Innu First Nation — alleged that in 1976 or 1977, when he was 12 or 13 years old, he had been sexually and physically assaulted by Bromley while he was a resident at the Whitbourne Boys’ Home, a correctional institution run by the province.

Bromley — who was the parish priest in Whitbourne at the time — had been given permission by government authorities to take boys, including Rich, on outings, including overnight stays at his cabin on Placentia Junction.

Rich claimed it was while at the cabin that Bromley assaulted him twice in one day. It included Bromley touching his privates and forcing Rich to perform oral sex on him.

Bromley died in 2004, but Rich still pursued the case.

Rich’s suit — first filed in August 2005 — originally also included claims against the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of Grand Falls and Bromley’s estate.

But once a settlement was reached with the church, he dropped the action against the diocese. The amounts of the settlement are confidential.

Rich also discontinued the case against Bromley’s estate.

However, the suit continued against the provincial government.

“It seems to me,” Adams said, “to be contrary to the policy of fair compensation and deterrence underlying the law of vicarious liability for Rich to be allowed to pursue the province where there is almost no basis on which to ground a claim in vicarious liability for the actions of Bromley when he has declined to pursue arguably the real employer of Bromley (the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation).”

But much of the case rested on the fact that Adam considered Rich to be an unreliable witness.

Rich, who has a troubled background and a lengthy criminal record, was not clear in his memory of the alleged incidents.

Adams said he got the impression that Rich’s recollection was  based, in large part, on a reconstruction of the events from his reading of prior statements and other evidence.

He pointed out that Rich had laid criminal charges against Bromley, but didn’t pursue the matter.

When Rich was incarcerated, he wrote a life story entitled “Shattered Dreams”, in which he spoke only of the assaults of another Roman Catholic priest, Father Leonard Paradis.

In 1999, when he gave his statements to police, Rich was confused about which priest had assaulted him first.

“He has settled a lawsuit with the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation,” Adams said. “There is a clear monetary incentive to now exaggerate any alleged assault by Bromley.”

Bromley was originally charged with 31 sex-related counts, including sexual assault, buggery, indecent assault and gross indecency, involving nine complainants — none of whom are involved in the current civil case.

But he was eventually cleared of all charges — several were withdrawn, he was acquitted of others, and in May 2004 the Court of Appeal overturned a 2002 conviction on a remaining charge of gross indecency.

The decision in Rich’s case could potentially impact other suits against Bromley’s estate and the province, which are before the courts.

Randy Piercey, who represented the province in the case, opted not to comment.

Rich’s lawyer, Jack Lavers, was unavailable for comment Tuesday.