The Kazblog

Sandra Kovacs and Mallory Hogan achieve a historic settlement with Roman Catholic Church defendants

In 1977-1978, Rev. Fr. Harold Vincent Sander, OSB, also known as Father Placidus, a Roman Catholic Benedictine monk and priest at Westminster Abbey in Mission, British Columbia, raped a 13-year-old male student.

That student, D.H., a young boy from a devout Roman Catholic family, told no one.

D.H. suffered in silence for decades until he was approached by the RCMP in the 1990s, after other complainants, including Mark O’Neill, had come forward. Despite Placidus’ admission in that trial that he had kissed a boy twice and had “consensual” sexual contact with an 18-year-old, he was acquitted of all charges after having been vigorously defended with the assistance of the Church. D.H. calls this “the second rape”.
More than two decades later, still searching for truth and justice, Mark O’Neill brought civil action in 2019, retaining Ms. Kovacs.

On October 15, 2021, Placidus died, and was celebrated with a 2-page tribute in the Pax Regis, which noted only that “not everyone had such a positive experience of [Placidus]”.

In the lead up to Mr. O’Neill’s trial in 2022, D.H. decided to bring his own civil action. He was motivated to try to keep children safe, by bringing attention to the fact that the minor seminary at Westminster Abbey still operates today, with boys as young as 13 living alongside Benedictine monks, in isolation from their families. Notably, Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that 21.5% of the Benedictine Community at New Norcia, Australia were alleged perpetrators of historical child sexual abuse. To date, Canada has not held any similar public inquiry and the data specific to the risk of child sexual offending by the Benedictine Community at Westminster Abbey in Mission is unknown.

The monetary terms of the settlement are not disclosed at this time, at the election of D.H., but reflect the twin goals of restitution for harms and losses suffered, and a significant punitive damages component. It was critical to D.H. that his settlement be significant enough to have a financial deterrent “penalty” effect on the defendants.

Importantly, for the first time in Canada, D.H. made it an express term of his settlement that the defendants will make public all documents disclosed by them in this litigation, akin to the Minnesota Transparency Initiative. D.H. is hopeful that this public disclosure of information will herald a new era of improved transparency between Roman Catholic institutions, survivors, and the Canadian public.

And, finally, the Roman Catholic Church has acknowledged Placidus as a credibly accused child sexual abuser – with a full public apology to D.H. in the BC Catholic.

The KazLaw team are grateful to have been able to assist D.H. in achieving long overdue truth, accountability, and validation. Plaintiffs like D.H. deserve good advocacy. We remain committed to furthering the cause of improving access to justice for survivors like D.H.