HALIFAX, N.S. – Philip Latimer says it’s not about the money.
The 47-year-old welder from Cape Breton, who alleges he was abused by a priest when he was a boy, could choose to apply for compensation under a $15-million class-action settlement recently approved by the dioceses of Antigonish.
But he won’t do it.
On Thursday, Latimer spoke publicly for the first time about his decision to launch a separate civil lawsuit against the diocese and the archdiocese of Halifax in a bid to force the Roman Catholic Church to be held to account in an open courtroom.
Latimer and his team of lawyers from London, Ont., argue that the class action process shields the church from public scrutiny because the disclosure of evidence will take place behind closed doors.
“My motivating factor has everything to do with the young boys of the parish – not money, not the settlement,” he told an emotionally charged news conference at a Halifax hotel.
“I want healing, true healing.”
The settlement, certified by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge, is intended to compensate anyone who was allegedly and known to have been sexually assaulted by a priest of the Catholic Episcopal Corp. of Antigonish since Jan. 1, 1950.
Latimer said he was motivated to break his long silence when he learned that the clergyman who brokered the settlement, Bishop Raymond Lahey, had been charged Sept. 25 with importing and possessing child pornography in Ottawa.
“That triggered something within me,” he said, his voice quavering. “When the man that orchestrated the deal was no different than the man that committed the crime, allegedly …. that did it for me.”
Lahey, who resigned as bishop of the Antigonish diocese before the charges became public, is to appear in an Ottawa court on Nov. 4.
Neither the allegations contained in the lawsuit nor those against Lahey have been proven in court.
Bruce MacIntosh, a lawyer for the diocese of Antigonish, couldn’t be reached for comment on Thursday and he declined comment when the lawsuit was filed Wednesday.
Marilyn Sweet, a spokeswoman with the archdiocese of Halifax, declined to comment on Thursday, saying the case is before the courts.
In his statement of claim, Latimer alleges he was sexually molested by a priest for four years, beginning when he was 11.
He alleges Rev. Allan MacDonald, who died in 2002, plied him with alcohol and abused him when he was an altar boy living in the rural Nova Scotia community of Havre Boucher on Nova Scotia’s eastern mainland.
“When I was a young boy, when this happened to me, I was put into a dark, dark hole, a dark, dark place,” said Latimer, who lives in Pleasant Hill and is married with three daughters and a grand-daughter.
“I cannot describe to you the pain, the shame that I felt … inside. I didn’t ask for that. But then, I couldn’t say nothing about it.”
His brother Warren, who sat at Latimer’s side, alleged that he, too, had been abused by a priest, but he didn’t know about Philip’s ordeal until earlier this week.
“That’s what made me come forward,” he said.
The 45-year-old contractor from Lower Sackville, N.S., said he had yet to decide whether to join his brother’s lawsuit or sign up for the class-action settlement.
One of Latimer’s lawyers, Rob Talach, said his client wants more information put on the public record regarding what the church knew at the time of the alleged abuse and if it failed to act on that knowledge.
“I would suspect the people of this province and the people of this particular diocese want to know what went on, want to know how deep the rot was or is, and need to know,” Talach said.
“If we’re all happy to pay off everyone and move on, then things are great. But if you want more, you have to ask for more, and I think that’s what Mr. Latimer is doing here today.”
The Halifax lawyer who negotiated the historic settlement, John McKiggan, confirmed the class action process is a confidential one, but he stressed that it is no different than a civil lawsuit when it comes to disclosure of evidence at the discovery stage.
Normally, examination for discovery documents – which are collected prior to a trial – are not released publicly in either type of proceeding, he said.
“It is true that if a sexual abuse survivor decides that they want to have a public trial, then the information collected in discovery may, but not necessarily, become public (in the trial),” he said in an email.
However, the release of that information comes at a cost, McKiggan said.
“In my experience, very few survivors want to have a public trial where they are re-victimized by cross examination and public attention and media scrutiny of traumatic experiences from their childhood,” he said.
“The bottom line is that each survivor will have to decide to do what is in their own best interest … I have worked hard to create a process that protects survivors’ privacy and dignity and provides them with fair and reasonable compensation.”
Talach later confirmed that about 95 per cent of civil lawsuits are settled before they go to court, which means it’s possible Latimer will not get the public inquiry he is seeking.
Talach said the $2 million the lawsuit is seeking represents the maximum allowable claim, and he stressed that civil actions in Canada routinely result in much smaller awards.
McKiggan has warned that claims like Latimer’s could drain the Antigonish diocese of cash and scuttle the hard-won settlement.
Latimer said that won’t happen.
“I’m not here to see it fail,” he said.
Latimer’s statement of claim alleges the diocese failed to look into MacDonald’s background and that the diocese fostered a system in which “deviant sexual practices were bound to develop among a percentage of the priests.”
After the news conference, Latimer’s wife of 24 years, Nancy Latimer, said her husband had told his dark secret soon after they were married, but the lawsuit alleged graphic details that stunned her.
“I had no idea what he went through,” she said. “It’s very hard for him. I’m surprised that he kept it together as well as he did.”
Warren Latimer’s wife Jackie said she had always suspected her husband had a troubled past, but he never told her what he had been through.
“He’s just going through all of the same emotions he did when he was a teenager,” she said.