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B.C. man reaches settlement over priest sex abuse allegations

Mark O'Neill alleged he suffered sexual abuse, physical abuse, and spiritual harm starting at age 13 at the Mission Roman Catholic seminary in British Columbia
A sexual abuse case involving a Mission, B.C., seminary has been settled.

A man who alleged he was sexually abused by Mission Roman Catholic priests and a seminary employee has reached an undisclosed settlement to end the case.

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.

The defendants listed in the suit included the Seminary of Christ the King; Westminster Abbey Ltd.; the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver, a Corporation Sole; Emerick Lazar; Harold Vincent Sander, a.k.a. Dom Placidus Sander; Shawn Rohrbach; and John Doe.

A trial in the case had been due to start Sept. 12.

Allegations detail sexual and physical abuse

O'Neill alleged Rohrbach, a college student employed at the seminary, sexually abused him while he was a student. He alleges Rohrbach performed oral sex on him and that he pestered younger boys in a shower room.

O'Neill alleged Lazar, a priest, broke his arm. Sander, also a priest, then allegedly delayed access to medical treatment to conceal the fracture. Sander died in 2021, according to the suit.

The claim alleges the defendants were systematically negligent and had acted “complicity in a culture of entrenched clericalism and distorted beliefs.” That culture “implicitly promoted the psychosexual immaturity of priests and seminarians,” added the claim, “perpetuating sexually deviant behaviour.”

O'Neill is one of three men making such claims.

The settlement

In a statement, lawyer Sandra Kovacs said O’Neill has elected to settle his claim with the defendants, including the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver, Westminster Abbey, and Seminary of Christ the King.

“Mr. O’Neill’s injuries were profound: he suffered a continuum of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and spiritual harm, starting at age 13 in 1974 and continuing until 1978,” Kovacs said.

O'Neill “suffered gravely” when he fell from the seminary's gym roof in 1977. At the time, he was 15 years old, and had been recruited to provide free labour, said Kovacs, who added O'Neill had never been given a harness. 

The lawyer said O'Neill 's upper arms were both fractured and fixed in hospital. But according to Kovacs, the defendants in the case argued B.C.'s statute of limitations barred him from making a claim over the injuries.

Also factoring into his decision to settle the case, Kovacs said, “...Mr. O’Neill is fatigued: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”

Earlier in the case, O’Neill and lawyer Kovacs had challenged the papal ambassador in Ottawa to disclose documents. That prompted the federal government to send a letter to the B.C. Supreme Court asserting diplomatic immunity for Rev. Ian Jurkovic’s.

Kovacs’s statement called O’Neill a champion for justice.

O'Neill made his first complaint to police in 1993, which led to criminal proceedings against Fr. Placidus Sander. When the criminal trial was heard in 1997, "the world was not yet aware of the nature and scope of clergy abuse in the Roman Catholic Church,” said Kovacs.

Placidus, was ultimately acquitted because the trial judge found there was “a reasonable doubt as to criminal guilt,” said Kovacs.

Regardless of the outcome, she added, “He has carried the torch for survivors of abuse at Seminary of Christ the King for decades.”

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