Saturday, March 17, 2012

New Brunswick town removes priest's name from arena after diocese acknowledges sexual abuse

File under "Yet another one." As reported by Sarah Boesveld in the National Post, March 14, 2012:

An Acadian fishing village in turmoil over allegations a priest abused local boys decades ago found catharsis Monday night by removing the clergyman’s name from the local arena without waiting for a planned plebiscite.

After a quick vote at Cap-Pelé, N.B., municipal hall, dozens of townsfolk who had attended the council meeting walked to the arena and cheered as volunteer firefighters pulled down the sign from Aréna Père-Camille-Léger, named after a long-serving priest and community leader who is now, 20 years after his death, being accused of sexual assault.

The town had planned a plebiscite to coincide with May’s general municipal elections, but a weekend apology from the Archdiocese of Moncton that acknowledged abuses at the hands of Léger spurred council to call an emergency meeting Monday.

“To delay the decision to remove the name of Father Camille Léger by plebiscite will cause more pain and uncertainty from the victims,” read the motion, passed unanimously by the council shortly after 7 p.m. Monday.

The sign was supposed to be taken down Tuesday morning, but the crowd present at the meeting was restless.

“There was an electricity in the air,” said deputy mayor Hector Doiron. “[Residents] wanted to have this done as quickly as possible.”

Moncton Archbishop André Richard attended four weekend services in Cap-Pelé’s Ste. Therese d’Avila Roman Catholic chuch, where Léger served from 1957-1980, and another church in nearby Shemogue. Last week, village councillor Norbert Gaudet was the first to publicly come out as one of Léger’s victims. Others have since followed suit.

‘People are upset and it seems like most everybody knows of some victim of some alleged victims’

“Such an attack on vulnerable people is unacceptable and highly reprehensible, especially when done by people in authority as a priest. This is a betrayal of the Gospel and the Church,” Archbishop Richard said to parishioners in French. “On behalf of the Archdiocese of Moncton, I apologize to those who have been affected directly or indirectly.”

Two people have come to the church district office with complaints about Léger, who died in 1990, “but I understand there are more” allegations against him, Archbishop Richard said in an interview Tuesday.

“The local population is in somewhat of a turmoil,” he said. “People are upset and it seems like most everybody knows of some victim of some alleged victims.”

Archbishop Richard pledged support for those who’d been abused and encouraged them to come forward. He could not say whether financial compensation would be offered.

Council wanted to hold a plebiscite because they felt the village, which had been divided over whether the name should be changed, needed to weigh in on the issue as taxpayers. But the archbishop’s acknowledgment seemed to convince those who had opposed the name change that maybe all was not well.

“I’m not against the [name change], I just think it was a rushed deal,” said Regis Cormier, a 68-year-old resident of the town who was in Scouts and the parish when Léger was priest.

Council’s emergency motion Monday night also hinged on majority support from the municipal council of 1984, which voted to name the arena after Léger.

Leon Richard, who was mayor at the time, said he cautioned against giving the priest such an honour, mostly because rumours about abusive behaviour had been running rampant.

Léger was a powerful person in Cap-Pelé — intimidating even, said Mr. Richard, who served as mayor from 1976-1988. The priest coached and managed a championship-winning hockey team, led the local marching band and was involved in the Boy Scouts. But he was also a “dominant” figure that would chastise his challengers from the pulpit, Mr. Richard said.

There were also allegations at the time that Léger was using money from the church to fund his hockey team, Mr. Richard said. These took the form of rumours as well.

“The counter argument by some members [of council] was that he’d done a lot in terms of organizations,” he said. “You can’t deny that — he had actually done a lot. My arguments were ‘It didn’t matter,’” he said, if those kinds of allegations were out there.

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