VANCOUVER — A former elementary school teacher who says she was sexually assaulted by a Roman Catholic priest more than 40 years ago in Kamloops, B.C., has been awarded nearly $850,000 in damages by a judge.
Justice David Crossin of the B.C. Supreme Court says in a decision released Tuesday that Rosemary Anderson was 27 when she began teaching at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in 1976.
It says Anderson sought comfort and solace following the death of her father from Rev. Erlindo Molon, an assistant pastor living in the rectory at the same parish.
The decision says Molon, who was about 20 years her senior, began a sexual relationship with Anderson that was born of a betrayal of trust and perpetuated by an abuse of power.
Anderson told the court that she reported the abuse to the Kamloops diocese in the spring of 1977 but the assaults continued and escalated in aggression until Molon left his posting in May of that year.
Justice David Crossin says the diocese failed to take adequate steps to protect parishioners, including Anderson, from the "predatory instincts" of Molon and what appeared to be his "lack of moral rectitude."
Anderson told the court she suffered numerous psychological injuries including an impaired ability to trust others, low self-esteem and a loss of connection to the church.
The Canadian Press does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they give their consent, which Armstrong provided in her case.
In his decision, Crossin says Molon's "conduct was an egregious, and indeed reprehensible, abuse of power."
"He exploited the vulnerability of a young woman entrusted to his care to engage in a prolonged and repeated course of sexual exploitation."
The decision says Anderson told another priest of the abuse 12 to 15 times during confession.
Later, she described the relationship to Archbishop Emeritus Adam Exner, who was then bishop of the Kamloops diocese.
Exner testified that he had already heard that Molon had a reputation in the diocese for sexual impropriety and characterized him as a "playboy priest."
Anderson told the court Exner offered to send Molon to an institution in Ontario for wayward priests.
The decision says it appears that within 10 days of the meeting, Molon was stripped of his sacraments and vacated the rectory although it's unclear where he landed.
For a time, the decision says Molon continued to arrive at Anderson's apartment where she says he raped her.
The judge found that Exner failed to take adequate steps to investigate Molon, document any investigation of the allegations and terminate Molon or restrict or limit his duties.
He also failed to warn parishioners of the risk of harm by Molon and prioritize the protection of the parishioners above the avoidance of a scandal.
Crossin says Exner was candid about his failings and expressed regret that he did not prevent Anderson's abuse, however, his failure to act fell "egregiously short" of the standard of care required by someone in his position of authority.
"The bishop effectively conceded a failure of leadership, responsibility and care. The bishop recognizes now, and I believe recognized at the relevant time, there was a right path and there was a wrong path concerning his engagement with Fr. Molon and the plaintiff. In my view, he chose the wrong path," Crossin says.
The judgment says Molon is unable to manage his affairs and a litigation guardian was appointed to file a response to the civil claim on his behalf. Molon did not participate in the trial in any way, it says.
Anderson's lawyer, Sandy Kovacs, says in an emailed statement that justice came at a high personal cost to Anderson, particularly having to share intimate details and enduring repeated "rape myth" questions and theories during the hearings.
"Mr. Justice Crossin's judgment puts to rest any suggestion that sexual contact between a spiritual leader and a vulnerable parishioner has the capacity to be consensual, and this is a victory," Kovacs says.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 27, 2020.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press