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Monday, 19 November 2012

“I used to say that not every priest was an abuser, that there were some bad ones, but now I think that those who were not pedophiles must have known what was going on and they didn’t say anything. Damn them all.”

Lawsuit alleges dozens of clergy abused children at Montreal school for deaf

MONTREAL — Another chapter of Quebec’s dark history of the sexual abuse of children in church-run institutions was aired this week by Radio-Canada. But this was not just any chapter. It threatens to be one of the most horrifying in an already heartbreaking record.

It deals with the sexual abuse of young boys, already vulnerable because of their age but doubly or triply so because they were also deaf and mute. Their alleged abusers were educated men who promised to set the boys free from their silent world.

Clerical and lay members of a much-admired Roman Catholic teaching order, the Clercs de Saint-Viateur, these men did not set the boys free. The boys who say they were abused ended up in a living hell, terrified of telling anyone what was happening to them. They remained trapped in that hell in adulthood, unable to erase the grotesque images in their heads of masturbating priests and anal rape.

This case may turn out to be the worst ever seen involving the abuse of deaf children. Unlike the previous record, held by a single Roman Catholic priest, Lawrence Murphy of Wisconsin, in Quebec more than 30 clergy are alleged to have abused the deaf children in their care, sometimes one after another. (Murphy, who may have sexually assaulted as many as 200 children at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin, was denounced in 1996 to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican took no action against Murphy, who died in 1998.)

In Quebec, the alleged victims of the Clercs de Saint-Viateur were given permission by Superior Court in March to pursue a class-action suit against the religious order. Named in the suit are 28 priests and brothers and six lay workers. More than 60 former students have signed on to the suit, all alleging sexual abuse. They are seeking $100,000 each in damages.

Radio-Canada’s investigative program Enquête called its program The Perfect Victims. The boys came as boarders to the only school for the deaf in the province at the age of 7 or 8. Many were thrilled to be at the school, where for the first time they would be taught to communicate with other children and learn to read and write.

Speaking of the abuse in public for the first time in his life, Denis Chalifoux told Radio-Canada that he arrived as an 8-year-old at the Institut pour des sourds de Montréal in 1968, happy to be with other deaf children. The happiness was not to last long. Within short order, Chalifoux found himself in a priest’s bedroom, with the priest’s penis in his face.

“I wanted my mother,” he said. “I so badly wanted to see my mother.”

Chalifoux said the abuse went on for years, until he left school at age 14, unable to read or write, fit for nothing but prostitution, he said. He worked as a prostitute until he was 30 and said he is haunted by that part of his life. He never told his parents about the abuse. He became hysterical every time he was forced to return to the school after a vacation, but according to his brother Marcel Chalifoux, the family put it down to homesickness. “I don’t think my parents would have believed him,” Marcel Chalifoux told Radio-Canada.

“Quebec was like Ireland,” said Carlo Tarini, communications director for a not-for-profit support group, the Association des victimes de prêtres. “The church totally dominated Quebec. It owned the hospitals and the schools. You didn’t have a prayer going up against a priest.”

Tarini thinks this domination may be in part why outside society failed to help the boys no matter how obvious it was that they were being abused. Former student Rock Savoie, who was at the institute in the late 1950s, told Radio-Canada he was anally raped a number of times. He would be sent to hospital with a torn anus, treated and then sent back to the institute. “The nurses gave me candy,” he said. (Savoie and Chalifoux communicated using sign language which an interpreter then translated into speech.)

Tarini said the allegations of abuse at the school stretch from 1942 to 1982.

“I used to say that not every priest was an abuser, that there were some bad ones, but now I think that those who were not pedophiles must have known what was going on and they didn’t say anything. Damn them all.”

Tarini also thinks the Clercs de Saint-Viateur have no right to the money they were paid, $7 million according to Radio-Canada, when they sold the former institute to a private developer. “That money was raised by the community,” said Tarini. “The priests would come around saying, ‘Give generously,’ and now they’re keeping the money.” The Clercs de Saint-Viateur did not respond to a request for reaction to the allegations aired on Radio-Canada.

France Bédard, 65, is helping to organize a protest demonstration Sunday by men and women who say they were abused by members of religious orders. She expects a large turnout. Bédard said she herself was raped by a priest and became pregnant as a 17-year-old when she worked in a presbytery. She did not see the son she gave birth to for 30 years.

As part of her own struggle for justice, during which she stumbled over a Quebec law requiring victims file complaints within a prescribed period, Bédard founded the association for victims of priests as a support network for victims. “Three times as many men call us as women,” said Bédard, who said that hundreds of victims have sought the association’s help. “These boys were abused while doing their studies,” she said. “That’s proof that priests were involved. They were the teachers. For men to come forward and say they were abused is very, very difficult. It raises the taboo of homosexuality. But what matters is to not be silent any longer.”


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