[WARNING: This article contains graphic descriptions, and could affect a person who has experienced sexual assault.]
The estate of a recently deceased Benedictine monk, Westminster Abbey, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver are all being sued by a former Mission, B.C. seminary student who alleges he was raped as a teenager in the 1970s.
The respondent, Harold Vincent Sander (also known as Father Placidus), was the subject of a criminal trial in the 1990s for his alleged sexual assault of three teenage students. He was acquitted on all six counts.
The plaintiff, who has applied to be anonymous in the suit filed March 14 in B.C. Supreme Court, is one of those three students.
The man alleges he was fondled and raped by Sander when he was 13 years old, after being summoned by the monk following an art class in the 1977/1978 school year.
The suit states that the institutional defendants – Westminster Abbey in Mission and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver – bear responsibility for not only failing to protect him, but for an internal culture that fostered continued sexual abuse of children.
Both institutions are complicit, according to the suit, for “entrenched clericalism and distorted beliefs that implicitly promoted the psychosexual immaturity of priests and seminarians, perpetuating sexually deviant behaviour and/or victim-to-perpetrator cycle.”
The plaintiff states at least three graduates of the Seminary of Christ the King’s high school have now been criminally convicted of child molestation: George Gordon, Paul Blancard, and Christopher Paul Neil.
Neil became widely known, following his arrest in Thailand in 2007, as “Swirl Face” for distorting his face in pornographic images abusing Southeast Asian children.
The minor seminary school attached to Westminster Abbey has the specific purpose of enrolling teenagers who express an interest in becoming Roman Catholic priests.
It is one of the last of its kind operating in the developed world and the only one still operating in Canada, the claim states.
The suit further alleges the Roman Catholic Church’s culture “silenced witnesses, complainants and whistleblowers … enabling perpetrators of sexual abuse to continue to commit their grievous crimes.”
It seeks damages as a result of the plaintiff’s claim of sustained injuries resulting from the alleged abuse, which include PTSD, chronic anger, anxiety, dissociation, sleep disturbance, and depression, to name a few.
Another upcoming civil case against the Mission seminary also names Sander, several other Mission monks, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver as respondents. It goes to trial in September.
The plaintiff in that case, Mark O’Neill, is another complainant from Sander’s 1990s acquittal. He alleges he was sexually and physically assaulted as a 13-year-old seminary student and for four years, from 1974 to 1978.
Sander, who died on Oct. 21, 2021 at the age of 94, was acquitted of all six charges by the judge in 1997. The judge said the evidence given by the complainants was unreliable and could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, according to contemporary reporting.
During the trial, Sander admitted to having consensual sex with an 18-year-old student in Grade 12 and kissing a student on the lips but denied all allegations of “sexually inappropriate” touching.
He continued to teach at the seminary after the trial, contemporary reports state.