July 03, 2005

Newfoundland confronts its priest abuse scandal

Boston Globe

By Doug Struck, Washington Post | July 3, 2005

STEPHENVILLE, Newfoundland -- In the hardscrabble fishing villages of this remote island, the Rev. Kevin Bennett was ''like a god," a former altar boy said. He was more important than a cop, and more feared than parents, said the altar boy, who was one of his victims. Dozens of boys kept Bennett's secret as he ordered each into his bed to fondle and rape them.

Now, 16 years after the priest was sent to prison, a $10.5 million settlement was reached last month over the sexual abuse claims of 39 former altar boys. The suit is causing the Roman Catholic diocese here to prepare to put churches, parish halls and priests' homes up for sale.

''We always thought we owned the church," said Theresa LaCosta, 78, who lives down the hill from Our Lady of Fatima Church in Piccadilly, a cluster of poor homes with rich views of emerald hills that plunge into St. George's Bay. She said her husband, now dead, badly hurt his back while helping to lay the church foundation. ''Now they are going to take the church away?"

As churches in the United States and Canada grapple with the aftermath of sex abuse claims, similar anguish might be felt by Catholics far and wide.

''This is a wake-up call for the entire church," said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a Washington lawyer who has counseled victims.

Doyle said the Newfoundland case could be ''potentially devastating" for dioceses in the United States. Canada's Supreme Court ruled that the Newfoundland diocese owned all of its parishes' property. US dioceses are fighting against having churches and property included in settlements.

Posted by kshaw at July 3, 2005 07:22 AM