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$14.7-million settlement in sex abuse class action against Montreal archdiocese

Settlement still needs approval by Quebec Superior Court in the coming weeks
The office of the Archdiocese of Montreal is seen Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Montreal. A Montreal law firm says it has reached a $14.7-million settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed against the Montreal diocese in 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

A $14.7-million settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit brought against the Montreal Roman Catholic archdiocese, and a judge will be asked to sign off on the deal in the coming weeks, the plaintiffs’ lawyer said Thursday.

The lawsuit, filed in 2019 and authorized by Quebec Superior Court in 2021, covered victims of sexual abuse committed by priests and lay employees of the archdiocese since 1940.

The lead plaintiff in the class action was a victim of Brian Boucher, a since-defrocked priest who was convicted of sexually abusing two boys under his supervision. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2019.

The settlement agreement covers abuse by diocesan priests but not priests who belong to specific religious orders, said Alain Arsenault, the plaintiffs’ lawyer.

He said the settlement will now need to be approved by Quebec Superior Court in the coming weeks and that a delay will likely be requested to permit a maximum number of victims to come forward.

There will be a limit for people to sign up and people will need to know that after the specified date, no one will be able to get an indemnity from the archdiocese.

“What’s important to say is that victims of priests from the Montreal archdiocese should contact us quickly, don’t wait until the last minute,” Arsenault said in an interview. “It’s also to tell victims other than those of the Montreal diocese to also contact us, to sign up.”

Arsenault said his law firm has 18 open cases involving other dioceses and religious congregations. The Montreal agreement is the first time in Quebec a diocese has settled a class-action lawsuit, he said.

The agreement covers a maximum of 123 victims, Arsenault said, a number extrapolated from those who have come forward to date. But he said the number could be much higher. If more victims come forward, the agreement will be reopened to negotiate extra funds, he said.

An adjudicator — a retired judge — will eventually decide how the money will be disbursed among victims who have suffered different types of abuse and are living with different long-term impacts.

Arsenault said the archdiocese was open to a settlement from the beginning and credited the collaboration to Archbishop Christian Lépine, who has shown a willingness to deal with historic abuse.

The Montreal archdiocese said it welcomes the settlement.

“We hope that this agreement will be approved by the court, and we hope that it will allow the victims to continue the difficult healing process more serenely,” it said in a short statement.

—Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

READ MORE: Catholic dioceses failed in past to raise money promised to survivors. Will they now?