After decades of quiet suffering and bottled rage, a Canadian man from Montreal is leading a group of 22 former residents of Catholic boarding schools in Britain and Tanzania - including four fellow Canadians from Quebec, B.C. and Alberta - in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Rosminian Order priests alleged to have physically, sexually and emotionally abused the children in their charge during the 1950s.
Francis Lionnet, a 63-year-old communications consultant, is spearheading a compensation bid that has already prompted a BBC documentary on the case and led this week to a formal apology from Britain's top Rosminian official.
Another ex-pupil involved in the case is Bill Tierney, a Montreal Gazette columnist and former mayor of the West Island community of Ste. Anne de Bellevue.
"I apologize without reservation on behalf of the Rosminian brethren in the U.K. to all those who have suffered," Father David Myers said in a statement released Wednesday, the day after BBC's airing of the film Abused: Breaking the Silence, in which several of the alleged victims told their stories.
"Such abuse was a grievous breach of trust to them and to their families. We are appalled by what was done to them," Myers added. "I and all my brethren are deeply shocked at what has happened and acknowledge our inadequate response."
Lionnet was an eight-year-old boy in 1956 when he arrived at the Grace Dieu school in Leicestershire, England. He claims to have been beaten and abused during his time there and to have witnessed the abuse of several other pupils at the school, housed in a sprawling manor in the countryside.
Lionnet immigrated to Canada in 1996 and later worked as a senior communications officer at NSERC, the federal science and engineering research fund.
He told Postmedia News on Thursday that, like other former pupils at the school, he thought often about his experiences at Grace Dieu, but only began organizing the legal fight in 2009 after a discussion with a fellow graduate about their memories of a particular priest's violent actions.
In his own mind, Lionnet said, he had been "kicking the crap out of this priest for hours and hours every year all my life. You know? We all were."
But after leaving the school, "we were scattered around the globe," he said of his former classmates, explaining why it took decades to re-connect with other ex-pupils, including those from a Tanzanian school run by the Rosminians, and finally confront the Catholic order with a litany of abuse allegations.
"It just took two of us to take leadership of it," Lionnet said, describing how he subsequently approached Myers with the dossier of complaints.
Letters of apology from several priests, in which they acknowledged that serious abuses took place, were received by the former pupils, he said. But Lionnet was told by the order that he and the other complainants had no moral right to seek financial compensation.
That response, he said, stiffened the group's resolve to aggressively pursue legal action...
...Tierney, 65, said Friday from his cottage in Nova Scotia that he attended Grace Dieu in 1957-58 and recalls "frightening" sounds coming from "Room X" - the place next to his own sleeping quarters where boys were beaten by an "odious priest" at the school...
...This week's apology from the Rosminian Order was welcomed by the alleged victims as a step in the right direction, according to a response issued Wednesday by the group's lawyers, Nottingham, England-based Uppal Taylor Solicitors.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Former residents of boarding schools launch lawsuit against Rosminian Order Roman Catholic priests
As reported by Randy Boswell of Postmedia News on June 23, 2011: