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Lawsuit against Catholic church alleges woman was sexually assaulted at Vernon school

The woman claims she was abused by a priest while attending a church-run school in 1970
A woman has sued the Catholic Church alleging she was sexually assaulted by a priest at an elementary school run by the St. James Catholic Church in Vernon in 1970. The statement of claim was filed in B.C. Supreme Court Feb. 22, 2022. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Editor’s note: This story contains graphic subject matter that may be upsetting to some

An Okanagan Indian Band member has sued the Catholic Church, alleging she was sexually assaulted by a priest more than 50 years ago at a Vernon elementary school that was run by the church.

The woman filed a statement of claim Feb. 22 in B.C. Supreme Court against the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Kamloops. According to the court documents, the woman does not know the identity of the priest who assaulted her but claims the diocese does. The priest is listed as defendant John Doe.

The statement of claim states that the woman attended St. James Catholic School from 1968 to 1972. She was allegedly molested in 1970.

“In or around the spring of 1970, when the plaintiff was seven years old and enrolled as a student at St. James School, she was in the school yard during a lunch break from classes when she entered St. James Church,” reads the claim. “Inside St. James Church the plaintiff encountered John Doe. John Doe grabbed her, picked her up, touched her genitals, penetrated her vagina, and kissed her on the mouth, neck and face.”

According to the claim, the woman was a minor at the time and could not — and in fact did not — provide consent. She was in the care and supervision of St. James School staff, and John Doe was in “a position of power, trust and authority” over her.

“The conduct of John Doe was intentional, malicious, and was done with the knowledge that it would cause the plaintiff humiliation, indignity, mental distress and psychological injury,” the claim reads. “In the alternative, the conduct of John Doe was done with wanton, careless, and willful disregard for the consequences to the plaintiff’s psychological health.”

As a result of the alleged sexual assault, the woman suffered psychological injury including trauma, depression, anxiety, low self-worth, panic attacks, social isolation, suicidal ideation and a loss of enjoyment in life. She also sustained a loss of earning capacity both past and prospective, according to the claim.

“The plaintiff will continue to require psychological counselling and therapy, medication, and will continue to incur expenses as a result of the Sexual Assault and the injuries sustained,” the claim continues.

The claim states that the diocese is liable for the negligence of its staff who were operating St. James Church at the time, citing failure to monitor John Doe’s activities and to monitor activities occurring inside the church, among other shortcomings.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

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Brendan Shykora
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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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