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Sins of A Father; Sex Abuse Victims Call For an End to The Suffering

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by goingonhope, Aug 17, 2007.

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  1. goingonhope

    goingonhope Member Premium Member

    Sins of A Father; Sex Abuse Victims Call For an End to The Suffering

    By Jack Poirier

    August 16, 07

    The Victims' Plight
    Sarnia's Irene Williams has been holding her breath for 45 years.

    Williams is a victim of childhood sexual assault at the hands of disgraced Catholic priest Charles Sylvestre.

    She thought her ordeal was winding to an end last August when London diocese Bishop Peter Fabbro pledged to support the victims and work towards a resolution.

    Now, the 56-year-old cries in her living room at the prospect of having her entire ordeal questioned by more psychiatrists.

    "It should be them on the other side of the table and us interrogating them ... It's not right," she says, pauses, and then apologizes for crying.

    Williams is among a large group of Sylvestre's childhood victims currently involved in civil litigation with the Catholic Church. They allege the diocese is forcing victims to relive their abuse by having them undergo more psychological testing, at the request of lawyers for the church's insurers. A press conference is planned in Chatham today, where several of Sylvestre's victims hope their public plea will convince the bishop to abandon this plan and stand by his earlier statements of a quick resolution.

    Sylvestre pleaded guilty last summer to molesting 47 girls over three decades while serving at parishes in Sarnia, Chatham, Pain Court and Windsor. The 84-year-old died three months into a three-year prison sentence.

    For Williams, who was nine years old when Sylvestre began abusing her while she volunteered at St. Thomas Aquinas parish in south Sarnia's Bluewater village, the prospect of undergoing two more days of intense psychological testing, which she's already endured on two other occasions, is unbearable.

    "Not a nun, not a priest, not a teacher ever took us aside to say, 'It's not your fault,'" Williams said.

    "Now, the victimization is happening all over again. It hurts and I am scared."

    She stops to wipe away tears.

    "What (the church's lawyers) are trying to do is immoral and unethical. We've been through enough. I don't care if this is their legal right."

    Carol Mieras says Sylvestre took away her dream of becoming a doctor.

    Comprehensive psychological testing determined she is among the top four percentile when it comes to intelligence.
    Yet, confronted with the horrors of her past, she walked out on that dream two decades ago.

    "The Bishop should stand by his words," she said. "He has made repeated statements for an expeditious end to this and pledged support for the victims. This is not how to accomplish this."

    Mieras said feelings of shame and guilt still consume her, the result of her abuse.

    She was between the ages of nine and 11, living in Chatham when Sylvestre's hugs progressed to kissing on the mouth and ultimately to digital penetration, she said.

    No one would listen to her.

    "It's like a cancer within you. It just continues to grow until it manifests itself," she said.

    Since then, Mieras said she has been unable to cope with men in a position of authority.

    At age 19, Mieras was pursuing her dream of entering medical school while studying at the University of Western Ontario, until she came across a physics professor who resembled Sylvestre.

    "Even his mannerisms reminded me of Sylvestre," she said.
    As a result, she reverted back to that insecure, scared nine-year-old, she said.

    She suffered a nervous breakdown and couldn't finish her course. She opted instead for a career as an occupational therapist.

    Three days before her settlement hearing scheduled for this past July 7, Mieras said she was contacted by church lawyers who cancelled the meeting and called for her to undergo further examination as part of the defence's evidentiary discovery.

    Mieras said she was devastated. She is currently on a stress leave from work.

    "This was going to be over for me," she said.

    Her evaluation is scheduled for Aug. 23 and 24 in Toronto, which she said will last 15 hours.

    "(The diocese) protected this asshole for more than 30 years ... and if they truly wanted to absolve their sins of the past ... they could do it," she said. "I think (the church) is hiding behind their lawyers and that is cowardly."

    Local resident Mary Elizabeth doesn't blame Bishop Fabbro for the abuse she and other victims suffered at Sylvestre's hands.

    She doesn't blame the church.

    But, the church failed to remove Sylvestre, both in 1962 when copies of a police report were sent to the diocese, as well as in 1989.

    In both instances, Sylvestre was given a leave of absence and sent for counselling, only to resume duties at another parish thereafter. It wasn't until 1993, after yet another victim complained, that the priest was forced to retire.

    Elizabeth, who opted to be identified by her birth name to prevent any further strain on her family, said the victims are being made to feel like they're somehow to blame for what's transpired.

    "We're asked, 'Why did you wait so long?' Yet, I reported my abuse to a nun and got beaten for it."

    Another victim was locked in a closet for revealing her plight.

    "Bishop Fabbro is not responsible for Sylvestre's actions," Elizabeth said, her lower lip quivering.

    "But he is accountable for the promises he made to us."

    The professional opinion

    Dr. Vicky Veitch Wolfe, a psychologist at the London Health Sciences Centre who specializes in child sexual abuse cases, said it is common for childhood victims to exhibit powerful stresses well into their adult years.

    "Child victims are much more likely to develop a post traumatic stress disorder," Wolfe said.

    "Child sexual abuse is a very potent trauma, compared to any other stressful event."

    Consequently, it can take years, or decades, for victims to learn how to cope with their feelings of isolation, guilt and shame, she said.

    Depression is a common result from the abuse, Wolfe said.

    Females are particularly vulnerable if the abuser held a position of power. "It can, and does, impact a person's ability to maintain and further a career," she said.

    Wolfe also noted that victims will typically find it stressful to relive the events during thorough psychological testing.
    If testing was already done, by a neutral psychiatrist, there really shouldn't be a need for any further tests, she said.

    "For victims, the issue becomes one of whether people
    believe them. So, they're left with the belief that the previous statements they made may not be valid," she said.

    "The whole message that is sent ... is insulting."

    To go through testing again and again would compound the stress, she said.

    "There's only so much emotional and intelligent energy a person possesses. This would suck up a lot of that."

    Dr. Peter Jaffe and his team of experts interviewed 46 of the 47 women Sylvestre pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting.
    They ranged in age from seven to 15 at the time.

    In his court report, Jaffe detailed their stories, with abuse including touching above the clothes and under the clothes, fondling and digital penetration.

    Among the scars to the girls that Jaffe noted were the inability to trust, low self-esteem, strained family relationships, intimacy issues and depression to name a few.

    "I think for the majority of survivors of abuse by this priest and other priests, it's shaken their confidence in the church, their sense of faith and belief," Jaffe said.

    The diocese's response

    Ron Pickersgill, director of communications for the London diocese, said he understands the concern expressed by the sex abuse victims. However, further psychological testing is a "normal" part of the civil litigation proceeding, he said.

    "This is not an intent to further victimize them. My understanding is this is standard."

    He said lawyers on both sides have a responsibility to do their due diligence for their clients. There are close to 60 women locked in a multimillion-dollar litigation with the diocese.

    "I can understand how the victims might find this unacceptable ... these lawyers are working for our insurance company."

    Pickersgill added that a letter writing campaign by the victims to Fabbro, asking him to intercede, would not change the situation.

    "I don't think he feels that he is in a position to do that," Pickersgill said.

    Bishop Fabbro was unavailable for comment.

    As for the Fabbro's pledge for an quick resolution to the litigation, Pickersgill said the diocese is doing its best to co-operate.

    "We are interested in reaching a fair settlement. It might feel different for (the victims)," he said.

    "I don't think Bishop Fabbro promised it would be easy (on the victims)."

    The Legal Opinion

    Paul Ledroit, managing partner of Ledroit Beckett, the law firm representing many of the victims, said the majority has already gone through intense examinations.

    Yet, most will have to endure it again for the defence.
    He admits, the practice is routine in most civil lawsuits.
    However, he said he was surprised by the diocese's about-face, considering five claims were settled.

    Ledroit said because several of the remaining civil suits involve "significant" loss of income claims, supported by psychological assessments completed by Dr. Peter Jaffe, the defence wants a contrary opinion.

    Ledroit said Jaffe, who serves as academic director at the Centre for Research on Violence Against Women and Children in London, is noted for his work across North America.

    "We need to stop the harm that is being caused to these women," Ledroit said.

    Source: The Observer, ON
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