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A B.C. Supreme Court judge has awarded $844,000 to a woman who was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her Catholic priest in the 1970s and failed by the local church leadership, which ignored rumours of the man’s sexual misconduct with other parishioners before the woman joined the community.

In a civil judgment released Tuesday, Justice David Crossin ruled Rosemary Anderson, now in her 70s, was sexually assaulted by Rev. Erlindo Molon “75 to 100 times,” when she worked as an elementary schoolteacher at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Kamloops, B.C.

Ms. Anderson had arrived at church on Labor Day as a 26-year-old just a month after her father had died in her arms on Bowen Island, and she quickly sought guidance from Father Molon during “a vulnerable time in her life,” the decision states.

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“The abuse she suffered was protracted and ongoing,” Justice Crossin wrote. “The plaintiff’s encounters with Father Molon were degrading and highly invasive. Father Molon occupied a position of trust and authority. He abused that trust to exploit the plaintiff repeatedly over months.”

Her lawyer had argued that the case is about not only the actions of the priest but also the inadequate actions of an institution that failed to protect her, while the defence countered that it was a “clear-cut, simple, little, civil, sexual assault case.”

Scott Huyghebaert, member of the Kamloops congregation and a lawyer at the firm representing the diocese, said the church regrets the harm suffered by this misconduct and respects the decision of the court. Today, allegations of abuse are investigated by a specialized administrator, who reports to a misconduct committee, he said.

“The church has been challenged to do better than it did 40-plus years ago to protect those who are vulnerable to abuse,” he said Wednesday.

The judge ruled that Adam Exner, the then-bishop of the Diocese of Kamloops who testified in the trial but was not named as a defendant, failed to take decisive action earlier that year after “quite a few” complaints about the man, who had gained a reputation as a “playboy priest” in the community.

“Had Bishop Exner taken appropriate steps prior to the arrival of the plaintiff, Father Molon would never have engaged in the abuse of the plaintiff starting that fall. Whatever damages flow from Father Molon’s abuse therefore also flow from the Diocese’s negligence: both were necessary causes of this damage,” the judge wrote.

When Ms. Anderson met with the bishop in the spring of 1977 to discuss a marriage proposal from her abuser, the church leader convinced her to leave the parish, according to the judgment.

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The bishop then asked the unrepentant priest to be transferred to another parish to seek counselling, but he refused and soon disappeared from his residence at the church, going underground to live in the community before being suspended in October, 1977, according to the judgment. The retired bishop testified in 1981 he received a reference request from a diocese in New York about the priest and even told Father Molon some years later that he would help him get a job preaching in the Canadian Armed Forces, according to the judgment.

Father Molon, who is legally incapacitated and in Ontario, is not involved in the case. He was never charged with anything and had denied the allegations in a written response.

Ms. Anderson said she has suffered psychological injury as a result, becoming suspicious, tense and hypersensitive. These injuries have undermined her ability to pursue educational and career opportunities, including ambitions to become a medical doctor, which have resulted in a loss of earnings, she said

According to the ruling, she had gotten married, had children and buried the trauma before seeing the movie Spotlight, which triggered the painful images and memories of Kamloops to bubble up.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

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