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B.C. church to pay settlement to priest sex abuse survivor

"Placidus may have murdered my soul, yet he was unable to kill my spirit," the victim said.
A B.C. man has been awarded a court settlement in a case of child sex abuse by a priest.

An advocate for clergy abuse victims is calling for the posthumous defrocking — the removal of clerical powers — of a dead priest following a settlement over his alleged abuse of a boy.

The complainant, known only as D.H., alleged Harold Vincent Sander, also known as Father Placidus, encouraged the 13-year-old to sketch his profile. The alleged abuse took place in Sander’s private office, according to a notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court on March 14, 2022.

The suit uses the criminal name for such alleged offences in use at the time: buggery.

Named as defendants in the suit are the Seminary of Christ the King; Westminster Abbey Ltd.; the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver, a Corporation Sole; and the estate of Harold Vincent Sander a.k.a. Dom Placidus Sander.

Sander died in 2021.

Spokesperson Matthew Furtado responded to Glacier Media on behalf of the archdiocese, seminary and abbey. He confirmed the settlement.

“In response to hearing D.H.’s recount of the abuse and its impact on his life, we freely acknowledge and accept the credibility of D.H.’s claims of abuse by Fr. Placidus and the grievous harm he has suffered and continues to suffer as a result,” Furtado said.

The settlement comes just as a seven-week trial was set to start June 3.

The case

The suit, filed by lawyer Sandra Kovacs, asserts Placidus was in a position of power and trust over the boy.

“At all times material to the buggery, the institutional defendants, collectively and individually, were complicit in a culture of entrenched clericalism and distorted beliefs that implicitly promoted the psychosexual immaturity of priests and seminarians, perpetuating sexually deviant behaviour,” the claim said.

The suit alleges various forms of negligence, wilful blindness, recklessness and a breach of fiduciary duty toward the plaintiff.

The claim said the plaintiff has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic anger, episodes of dissociation, depression, sleep problems, anxiety, low self-esteem, distorted thinking, and impaired ability to trust authority, others and familial relationships.

“Placidus may have murdered my soul, yet he was unable to kill my spirit,” D.H. said after the settlement.

Church statement

Furtado said the church organizations hope and pray the resolution will continue the process of healing for everyone involved, including D.H. and his family.

“We also acknowledge, with sadness and remorse, any failures in admitting D.H.’s credibility or appreciating the magnitude and gravity of the damage he experienced or experiences now,” Furtado said. “With regret for any actions we have taken or omitted to take which have caused D.H. additional pain and suffering, the abbey, seminary, and archdiocese are deeply sorry and extend to D.H. our sincerest apologies.

“In the spirit of reconciliation by which we all seek to be made whole as individuals and a community, it is hoped the monetary and non-monetary terms of the settlement will serve as both penalty and remedy as part of the journey of healing,” Furtado said.

“May this healing, begun at the root, extend to generations to come with ever deeper mutual understanding and a strong foundation in justice,” he said.


Bernadette Howell is an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. 

She noted on her blog that Placidus was acquitted in 1997 of sexual offences involving D.H. and two other complainants after having been vigorously defended with the support of his Benedictine community.

“I respectfully ask the defendants to include the posthumous defrocking of Harold Vincent Sander — currently recognized as Father Placidus: including a written retraction of the celebration of his priestly life that was published by Christ the King Seminary in its Pax Regis news bulletin, and the BC Catholic, upon his passing in 2021.”

Furtado did not respond to questions about Placidus being defrocked.

Second Placidus settlement

This is not the first settlement involving the priest and some of the defendants.

Mark O'Neill was seeking damages for sexual abuse he alleges he suffered as a teen during his time at a Mission Roman Catholic seminary from 1974 to 1978. He was 13 to 17 years old at the time.

A settlement was awarded to O’Neill in that case in September 2022.

D.H. paid tribute to O’Neill, “another survivor of Placidus, who alone courageously carried the torch for survivors for decades.”

“It has been Mark's sincere tenacity, along with the help of my family, friends, and the professionalism of those in their respective disciplines, that has enabled me to twice unwittingly break from my silence and step up, first participating in Placidus Sander’s criminal trial in 1997, and again by supporting Mark in his recent case which ended in an underwhelming and overshadowed settlement in 2022,” D.H. said.

Disclosure of litigation record

Kovacs said D.H.’s case is significant because one term of the settlement is a first: the defendants must list all documents produced in the litigation on a public website, so they become a matter of public record.

“D.H., the survivor plaintiff in this important case, hopes that the critical non-monetary term of his settlement requiring public disclosure of historical records is a helpful step forward in effecting some meaningful change,” Kovacs said.

D.H. addressed that condition in a news release.

“The practice of merely reporting that a settlement has been reached provides no context whatsoever to the public. Nor does it offer disclosure of any of the facts raised during each litigation process,” D.H. said. “This only serves to suppress the survivor's voice, and essentially relieves the defendant of accountability, allowing for the continued abuse of children to go unchecked.

“To me, this practice flies in the face of the first survivor who was persecuted for his refusal to settle for anything less than the redemption of our souls, and in whose namesake Christians worldwide strive today to hold themselves accountable for their actions.

“My hope is that practicing Roman Catholics and the wider community can recognize this self-serving behaviour by the Roman Catholic Church and, that my refusal to accept a monetary settlement alone will be understood and strengthen the resolve of the community at large to demand change where change is necessary,” said the statement.

Furtado confirmed the church will abide by the terms.

“We will provide further transparency by publishing all documents we disclosed in this litigation,” he said.