A Manitoba judge has ruled the Anglican Church is liable for the sexual assaults a woman experienced more than 50 years ago at the hands of a priest.
"It is clear that the Anglican Church of Canada did not and does not condone the sexual abuse of children by priests acting on their behalf. However, that fact is not determinative in deciding if the Diocese of Brandon should be held vicariously liable for the sexual assaults inflicted on the plaintiff by (Jack) Hopper," Justice John Menzies wrote in his decision delivered last month.
"The sexual abuse committed by Hopper and the placement of Hopper as priest in the community of Grand Rapids by the Diocese of Brandon are strongly connected. I have little hesitation in finding that the Diocese of Brandon is vicariously liable for the sexual abuse inflicted on the plaintiff by Hopper."
In the lawsuit against The Anglican Church of Canada, The Diocese of Brandon filed in 2014, the plaintiff, now 63, claimed she was sexually assaulted twice by Hopper, an Anglican priest, in the basement of an Anglican church in Misipawistik Cree Nation (Grand Rapids First Nation).
The woman told the court during a three-day trial for the lawsuit in Brandon Court of Queen’s Bench in September that Hopper assaulted her on two occasions after Sunday school a few months apart.
The first time, she said, he pinned her against a wall of the church, touched her genitals under her clothes and digitally penetrated her.
On the second occasion, Hopper threw her onto the floor of the church basement and raped her, the woman said.
The woman estimated she was about eight years old at the time, and said she didn’t tell her parents what happened at the time because she was afraid of being disciplined.
Hopper died in the 1990s.
Menzies concluded the sexual assaults did occur, he said in his decision, as the plaintiff proved to be a credible witness and the evidence clearly established Hopper was the priest at the community church for an extended period of time while the plaintiff was a young girl attending Sunday school.
The relationship between Hopper and the Diocese was akin to an employment relationship, Menzies said, and it was the Diocese, through the Bishop, who placed him in the community as priest.
It was this relationship that provided Hopper with the opportunity to abuse his power, Menzies said. Hopper came into contact with the plaintiff during church activities, and — as the local priest — no one questioned him being alone with young children in the Sunday school setting.
"The church encourages an intimate personal relationship between parishioners and the local priest. With respect to children, the church encourages them to respect the priest as the representative of the church in their community. He is the spiritual authority who teaches them right from wrong. The priest is the authority on spiritual matters," Menzies said.
"It is this very relationship which made the plaintiff vulnerable to Hopper’s abusive behaviour. His position as an authority in the church would have placed him above suspicion. The child would not question being in his presence in the absence of parents as he was a man to be respected. Hopper’s position as priest would have made it very difficult for a young child to accuse him of sexual abuse ... In a remote, isolated community, Hopper represented the respect and authority of the Anglican Church. This position of priest enabled him to manipulate the plaintiff into being alone with him, which enabled him to perpetrate the sexual abuse."
The consequences of the sexual assaults were extensive, Menzies said, leaving her feeling shameful of who she was with an inability to trust people and struggling with anger issues.
The woman testified she began abusing alcohol to forget her past and attempted suicide twice when she was approximately 17 years old.
She was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Menzies said, and evidence put forward during the trial linked the sexual assaults as a contributing factor to her PTSD.
"The plaintiff has satisfied the burden of proving, on a balance of probabilities, that the sexual abuse caused her PTSD," Menzies said.
Menzies also rejected the Diocese’s argument the woman wasn’t entitled to a certain amount of damages because she has since done remarkably well in her life, including a 40-year marriage to the same man, raising seven children and three grandchildren, 20 years of sobriety and a stable place of employment where she is also furthering her education.
"The psychological damages inflicted on the plaintiff were substantial and should not be ignored simply because she had the strength and perseverance to succeed," Menzies said. "Her path has been a difficult one."
Considering all the factors and reviewing several decisions in similar cases, Menzies recommended the woman be awarded $125,000 for damages.
» Twitter: @erindebooy
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