Catholic Church sexual abuse cases in Canada

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The Catholic sexual abuse cases in Canada are well documented dating back to the 1960s. The preponderance of criminal cases with Canadian Catholic dioceses named as defendants that have surfaced since the 1980s strongly indicate that these cases were far more widespread than previously believed. While recent media reports have centred on Newfoundland dioceses, there have been reported cases—tested in court with criminal convictions—in almost all Canadian provinces. Sexual assault is the act of an individual touching another individual sexually and/or committing sexual activities forcefully and/or without the other person's consent. The phrase Catholic sexual abuse cases refers to acts of sexual abuse, typically child sexual abuse, by members of authority in the Catholic church, such as priests. Such cases have been occurring sporadically since the 11th century in Catholic churches around the world. This article summarizes some of the most notable Catholic sexual abuse cases in Canadian provinces.

Sexual abuse cases by province[edit]


Fr. Robert Joesph Whyte[edit]

Between 1962 and 1982, Fr. Robert Joesph Whyte abused 18 boys and girls during his time as a parish priest of St. Pius Catholic Church and a Catholic high school teacher. He abused children at a youth camp near Radium, British Columbia.[1] In 1989, Whyte was charged 18 count of sexual abuse and plead guilty to each charge in January 1990.[1][2] Whyte, who received a four year prison sentence,[1] is among at least four Basilian Order priests in Canada accused of sex abuse.[3]

In 2016, a 52-year-old man who claimed that Whyte molested him when he was between the ages of eight and fifteen filed a lawsuit at the Calgary Courts Centre.[2] The estate of Whyte, who died in 2014, and the Catholic Church in Alberta were each named as defendants in the lawsuit.[2] The plaintiff, who was also serving as an altar boy at the time of the alleged abuse, requested $4 million from the Alberta Catholic church.[2]

Rev Patrick O'Neill[edit]

In 1997,[4] Archdiocese of Edmonton priest Rev. Patrick O'Neill was convicted of sexually abusing three Alberta boys between 1971 and 1984.[4] In November 1998, was sentenced to two years and less than a day in prison.[4][5] In 1999, O'Neill received a conditional sentence after pleading guilty to sexually abusing two Irish boys he brought to Edmonton for holiday in the mid-1990s.[4][5]

In January 2012, a 51-year-old former altar boy who claimed he was sexually abused by O'Neill in the early and mid-1970s filed two $3.4 million lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Edmonton.[4][5]


In April of 2021, Fr. Fred Olds, formerly pastor of St. Bernadette and St. Timothy Parishes in the Archdiosese of Saint Boniface in Winnipeg, Manitoba, was dismissed from the clerical state following a canonical trial which determined that "he [Olds] engaged in grooming of young men, who were struggling with, or recovering from, drug or alcohol addiction by attempting to become a father-figure to them... becoming increasingly overly tactile in counselling situations... There is established a clear pattern of grooming young men, struggling with addictions, to eventually engage in sexual behaviour."[6] Olds was removed from the Dioceasan Advisory Committee for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults and placed on administrative leave from his office as Pastor of St. Timothy in late 2016 after these allegation were brought to the attention of the Archdiosese of St. Boniface.[7] Statements about Olds alleged conduct were also made during the arrest and sentencing of Leo McCaughan, former business manager of St. Bernadette Parish, who plead guilty to embezzling over $400,000 in church funds in 2016.[8]

New Brunswick[edit]

As of 2017, court records indicate at least 56 cases of child sexual abuse involving the New Brunswick dioceses are currently before the courts.[9] According to one CBC report: "Almost every month for a year, lawsuits have been filed against the Catholic Church in New Brunswick by alleged victims seeking compensation for sexual abuse by priests."

British Columbia[edit]

Archdiocese of Vancouver[edit]

In 2019, the Archdiocese of Vancouver publicly named nine clergymen who were criminally convicted of sexual abuse or who had civil lawsuits related to abuse settled against them.[10] It was also acknowledged that the archdiocese was aware of 36 sex abuse cases since the 1950s, which involved 26 children.[10] The Archdiocese of Vancouver was the first among Canada's 60 Catholic dioceses to make this information public.[10]

In August 2020, a new sex abuse lawsuit was filed against the Archdiocese of Vancouver.[11] The lead plaintiff, identified only by the initials K.S. in the court documents, said the priest in charge of St. Francis of Assisi School, Father Michael Conaghan, sexually assaulted her while she was a student at the school in the 1980s.[11] She was around 11 years old at the time of the alleged abuse.[11] Conaghan, who died four days after the lawsuit was filed, was not among the nine clergy listed by the archdiocese in 2019.[11] The lawsuit also alleges the Archdiocese of Vancouver followed marching orders from the Vatican for years on how to bury allegations of abuse within its parishes.[11]

Hubert Patrick O'Connor[edit]

Hubert Patrick O'Connor was a Canadian Roman Catholic bishop of Prince George in British Columbia who was forced to resign following sex abuse charges filed against him.[12]

Fr. Damian Lawrence Cooper[edit]

Fr. Damian Lawrence Cooper is a Vancouver priest who was first accused of sexual abuse in 1994. He was sued in the B.C. Supreme Court along with the Archdiocese of Vancouver on September 29, 2014. The plaintiff visited the priest for counseling prior to the abuse, and was sixteen years old when the sexual abuse began. Media coverage of the lawsuit unearthed the fact that, despite initial claims of having removed Cooper permanently from the priestly ministry when the abuse was first admitted in 1994, the Archdiocese of Vancouver instead sent him to work in an archdiocese on Long Island, New York. In Long Island, he then committed "problems of a similar nature".[13] The archdiocese's official comments to the media referred to the abuse as "an affair" which raised public expressions of concern, including questions about whether the archdiocese was being legally aggressive or simply remained ignorant of the nature of pastoral sexual exploitation when it equated sexual exploitation of a minor and a congregant with "an affair".[14] Cooper was still a priest of the Archdiocese of Vancouver at this time, technically on leave, but had not been laicized (permanently removed from active ministry as a priest). He lives in Vancouver, Washington.

Fr. Erlindo Molon[edit]

On August 25, 2020, British Columbia justice David Crossin ordered the office of the Bishop of Kamloops and retired priest Fr. Erlindo Molon, who was by then 88 years old, to pay $844,140 in damages to Rosemary Anderson, who claimed Molon raped her 70 to 100 times in 1976 and 1977, beginning when she was 26 years old.[15] Anderson claimed Molon offered her counselling when she was grieving her father's death.[15] During the lawsuit, former Kamloops Bishop, and future Vancouver Archbishop, Adam Exner, who was previously Molon's superior, conceded during witness testimony that he knew Molon "was molesting people," including Anderson.[15] Exner also stated that Molon was not stripped of his priesthood status until after Anderson told him that Molon raped her and suggested that she marry him.[15]


In 1988, a scandal erupted over allegations of widespread abuse of children at Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland. In 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Roman Catholic Church is responsible ("vicariously liable") for sexual abuse by its priests in the diocese of Saint George's. In February 2009, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador ruled that the Roman Catholic Church in St. John's was responsible ("vicariously liable") for the sexual abuse of eight former altar boys by disgraced priest, Reverend James Hickey. In 2007 Reverend Wayne Dohey was charged with sexual assault and one charge of exploitation of a minor. The charges were dismissed due to insufficient evidence. The abuse allegedly occurred between 1996 and 2000 and started when the alleged victim was fourteen years old. Dohey was admitted to counseling in 2001 when the sexual relationship was acknowledged by the church. Controversy over the legality of the sexual relationship occurred because it was unclear whether Dohey was in a position of authority over the 14-year-old Anglican, who was placed at his church for mandatory community service.[16]


In Ottawa, Ontario historical cases of child-sexual abuse by Catholic priests within the Ottawa archdiocese date back to the 1950s. Newspaper records of documented cases involved at least 11 abuser priests and 41 victims.[17] Among these cases was those of convicted child sex offenders, Dale Crampton, Ken Keely, Jacques Faucher and Barry McGrory: all of whom served as priests in the Ottawa diocese in the 1970 and '80s under Archbishop Joseph-Aurèle Plourde, whose own role in these cases is well documented but was never held to account by the courts.[18]

As of 2016, the Ottawa archdiocese has paid nearly $600,000 in settlements to abuse victims in seven lawsuits since 2011. Five more lawsuits remain, with claimants seeking a total of $7.4 million.

In 2016, Ottawa archbishop Terrence Prendergast acknowledged "the enormity of the evil" in connection to these cases.[17]

Dale Crampton[edit]

In 1986, Dale Crampton was arrested and pled guilty to seven counts of indecent assault involving minors. Those abuses transpired between January 1973 and December 1982, while Crampton was a priest in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Ottawa. The seven male victims were all between the ages of 10 and 13 when they were assaulted by Crampton.

In the ensuing years subsequent to that trial, the number of sexual abuse cases grew in which Crampton was named as defendant. The scope of those new cases extended as far back as 1963, when Crampton was first ordained as a priest.

As of 2017, the Ottawa Catholic diocese knew of at least 17 people who say they were victimized by Crampton as children.

Angus Alexander McRae[edit]

In 1989, Priest Angus Alexander McRae, Archdiocese of Edmonton, Alberta (ordained June 5, 1954) was charged with the sexual abuse of two boys in Scarborough, Ontario. He spent several years with the Canadian Armed Forces as a military chaplain. In 1980 he attended court and was sentenced to four years for sexual abuse of a young boy. The charges, which included buggery, gross indecency and indecent assault, were laid and prosecuted by military police. He served the first ten months of his four-year sentence in the CFB military prison in Edmonton before being sent to Southdown, a treatment centre for Catholic clergy.[19] After his release from Southdown, he was taken into the Archdiocese of Toronto by Archbishop Emmett Carter, and was recycled into St. Thomas More parish in Scarborough. In 1989, he was charged with abuse in Toronto and pleaded guilty. He was then placed on three years' probation. He later claimed that he only pled guilty to spare the families further embarrassment: "As much as I hated it and against my conscience and to save families further embarrassment I took it on the chin."[20] McRae passed away peacefully at the Edmonton General Hospital on Friday, May 20, 2011.[citation needed]

Charles Henry Sylvestre[edit]

In August 2006 Father Charles Henry Sylvestre (born 1922)[21] of Belle River, Ontario pled guilty to 47 counts of sexual abuse on females between the ages of nine and fourteen between 1952 and 1989. Paul Bailey, the Crown Attorney for Chatham Kent, reportedly described the case as being the "largest case of non-residential school sex abuse by a Roman Catholic priest" in North America.[22] Local newspapers documented the lives of many of the women who refused the publication ban and spoke out about their abuse.[23] Sylvestre was given a three-year sentence in October 2006 and died January 22, 2007, of natural causes after only three months in prison.[21] The case was documented by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation new programme The Fifth Estate.[21] On May 21, 2020, an Ontario appeals court dismissed a bid by the Diocese of London, where Sylvestre was employed, to drop a lawsuit filed by Irene Deschenes, who claimed that Sylvestre sexually abused her when she was a minor between 1970 and 1973.[24] Deschenes began legal action against the Diocese of Ontario in 1996.[24]

Bernard Ambrose Prince[edit]

In 2008, Msgr Bernard Ambrose Prince (born in Wilno, Ontario, ordained in 1964, incarnated in 1992 in Pembroke, Ontario) pleaded guilty to charges of sexual abuse of thirteen young boys from 1964 onward. He was sentenced to four years' incarceration in 2008. He was laicized by the Catholic Church in 2009, and paroled in 2010.[25] His crimes were known in the Canadian Catholic Church[26] and in the Vatican before he was appointed to Rome in 1991.[27]

William Hodgson Marshall[edit]

On April 30, 2020, the Canadian Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the Basilian Fathers of Toronto to not give victim Rod MacLeod a required payment of just over $2.5 million, including $500,000 in punitive damages, stemming from a sexual-assault case in the 1960s.[28] MacLeod was abused by Father William Hodgson (Hod) Marshall,[29] then a Basilian priest, when MacLeod was a student at St. Charles College high school in Sudbury.[28] A jury had previously ordered the Basilian Fathers of Toronto to make the payment in April 2018 by a jury.[30][28]

Marshall, who died in 2014 at the age of 92, pled guilty in 2011 to 16 counts of indecent assault of minors and one count of sexual assault for incidents that occurred between 1952 and 1986 when he taught at Assumption and Holy Names high schools in Windsor, plus other Catholic high schools in Toronto and Sudbury.[29] He was sentenced to two years in prison, and served 16 months of his sentence before being released on probation in 2012.[29] However, Marshall, who was given the nickname "Happy Hands" in the 1950s due to his tendency to touch students, later pled guilty to more sex abuse charges stemming from his time in Saskatchewan.[29]

Kenneth O'Keefe[edit]

In September 2012, Basilian order priest Kenneth O'Keefe, who taught at various Catholic schools in the Ottawa area, received a nine-month house arrest sentence after pleading guilty to inappropriately touching a 16-year-old who was a student at Ottawa's St. Pius high school during a sleepover at his apartment in 1974.[31] In January 2013, O'Keefe received an additional sentence of nine months house arrest after pleading another "indecently assaulting" a then-17-year-old boy who was a student at Ottawa's St. Joseph's Catholic School over the course of four months between September and December, 1969 as well.[32]

Nova Scotia[edit]

On August 7, 2009, bishop Raymond Lahey announced that the Diocese of Antigonish had reached a $15 million settlement in a class action lawsuit filed by victims of sexual abuse by diocese priests dating back to 1950. On September 15, 2009, he was arrested at the Ottawa airport after the border services agency uncovered hundreds of unlawful images (child pornography) on his laptop computer. Lahey was "sentenced to 15 months in prison and two years' probation, but received a two-for-one credit for the time he served".[33]


In 2013, convicted Ontario Basilian priest Hod Marshall received a six-month house arrest sentence after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting two Saskatoon boys in 1959 and 1961.[29]


The institution Collège Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur came into the public eye for a multitude of sex abuse cases and cover-ups spanning more than the second half of the 20th century.[34]

In December 2012, it was reported that a deacon at a congregation in Beaconsfield, Quebec, and "a spokesperson for the Catholic Church on issues of child abuse", was charged with possession and distribution of child pornography after police seized more than 2,000 photos, as well as computers and hard drives, at locations in Beaconsfield and Pointe-Claire.[35]


On September 12, 2014, de-frocked Catholic priest Eric Dejaeger (born April 24, 1947, ordained in 1978) "was convicted of 24 counts of indecent assault, one of unlawful confinement, two of buggery, three of unlawful sexual intercourse, one of sexual assault and one of bestiality" that he committed during his time in the priesthood in the Roman Catholic mission in Igloolik, between 1978 and 1982.[36] He had already been convicted for 11 counts of sexual assault and indecent assault against children at his previous post in Baker Lake, Nunavut.[36]

Allegation against former nuncio[edit]

On 22 February a Canadian man, Christian Vachon, claimed that former nuncio to Canada Luigi Ventura had touched him improperly in July 2008 when he was 32.[37][38] Vachon said Ventura's successor as Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, called him the day he registered his complaint to discuss it.[39] On July 23, 2020, it was reported that Ventura, who is facing trial in France for later sex abuse allegations, was still under investigation for the alleged 2008 incident in Ottawa.[40][41]

Residential schools[edit]

By 1912, thousands of First Nations children attended residential schools, many of which were run by the Catholic Church. In 1990, Manitoba leader Phil Fontaine revealed that he had been sexually and physically abused in a Catholic residential school. He claimed that sexual abuse was common in residential schools in general. "In my grade three class, if there were 20 boys, every single one of them would have experienced what I experienced. They would have experienced some aspect of sexual abuse."[42] Canadian author and artist, Michael D. O'Brien, has also spoken out about his painful experiences of residential school abuse, revealing that "the sexual exploitation of the young has been epidemic in Catholic residential schools and orphanages."[43]

See also[edit]

Sexual abuse cases in catholic church
Critique & consequences related topics
Investigation, prevention and victim support related topics
Other related topics


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