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Delta professor alleges sexual abuse by Prince George Catholic priests

Two dead Prince George Roman Catholic priests are among defendants named in a sexual abuse case filed by a man who asserts the pair began abusing him when he was in kindergarten at a church school.
Nicholas Harrison, aged five or six in this picture, alleges it was around this time in his life that Prince George Catholic priests began sexually abusing him.

Warning: This story may be distressing to some readers.

A Delta professor and actor alleges in a new lawsuit that Roman Catholic priests in Prince George sexually abused him as a child.

Dr. Nicholas Harrison made the allegations in a notice of civil claim filed in the B.C. Supreme Court Vancouver registry on Jan. 4. He claims abuse by Father Francis "Frank" Joseph Rayner and Brother Dennis "Leopold" O'Mahoney occurred from 1973 to 1977, while he was in kindergarten through Grade 4.

"I was only six years old when the sexual abuse began," Harrison said in a statement to Glacier Media, provided by his lawyer.

At the time, Harrison was an altar boy at Sacred Heart Cathedral and a student at the adjoining elementary school.

"I cannot find the right words to explain how the sexual abuse that I endured at such a young age has impacted my life," Harrison said. "My experiences at Sacred Heart have left a permanent stain on my soul. I have spent a lifetime in therapy, writing and sharing my experiences with others as a cautionary tale of how these horrific breaches of the social contract between adults and children occur."

The claim asserts Rayner used his position of power and control to coerce and manipulate Harrison.

If he reported the alleged abuse to his parents, Harrison was told God would not love him, and his family would go to hell.

"I was told repeatedly that I was a 'dirty boy' and I had to be punished to earn God's love," Harrison said.

The suit also asserts two others — a brother Paschal and teacher Catherine Lillian Fowlie — hit, strapped, whipped him and locked him in a closet.

Harrison claims the alleged abuse has led to multiple injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicidal thinking, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, sexual orientation confusion, lack of self-worth, low self-confidence and self-worth, an impaired ability to sustain his marriage, an inability to trust others, spiritual trauma, anger and fear of authority among others.

"My story of abuse and suffering must be told so that other survivors may gain the strength they need to know what happened to them was not their fault," Harrison said. "I need to know that truth and justice can be achieved for the wrongs I and so many others have suffered."

Harrison is seeking damages for multiple reasons.

In addition to his academic work, Harrison is an actor known for appearances in films such as Scooby-Doo 2 and T.V. series like Alcatraz, Stargate SG-1, Smallville and The X-Files. He has also been a stunt coordinator for Vancouver's Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival.

Other defendants

The claim asserts Bishop Emeritus John Fergus O'Grady, who headed the diocese from 1955 to 1986, and Bishop Emeritus Hubert Patrick O'Connor (1986 to 1991) had supervision of Rayner. Also named in the claim as having indirect control over Rayner is Archbishop Emeritus Adam Joseph Exner, former archbishop of Vancouver and the bishop of Kamloops from 1974 to 1982.

O'Connor was convicted of rape and indecent assault of female students at schools. He was later acquitted of indecent assault in a 1999 appeal, and a new trial was ordered for the rape charge, but the Crown decided not to pursue the case after O'Connor apologized.

Exner was a star witness in a sexual abuse civil suit against "playboy priest" Erlindo Molon, a priest he supervised while Kamloops bishop.

In 2020, B.C. Supreme Court ordered the Kamloops Roman Catholic Diocese to pay Molon's victim, Rosemary Anderson, $844,140 in damages.

Harrison's claim names the estates of Rayner, O'Mahoney and Fowlie as the defendants as all are deceased.

The list of defendants also includes the Order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the Province of British Columbia, MOI Lacombe Canada Inc., The Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of Prince Rupert (also known as the Diocese of Prince George British Columbia), the Estate of Bishop Emeritus John Fergus O'Grady, the Estate of Bishop Emeritus Bishop Hubert O'Connor, Bishop Emeritus Gerald Wiesner, Archbishop Emeritus Adam J. Exner, John Doe (otherwise known as brother Paschal), the Estate of Catherine Lillian Fowlie and the Catholic Independent Schools Diocese of Prince George.

The Prince George diocese did not respond to a request for comment.

Harrison's lawyer, Sandra Kovacs, said civil suits are an appropriate means of holding the church to account.

"The plaintiff's lawsuit, amongst others I have filed on behalf of other clients, seeks to address the root causes of clergy abuse — clericalism, celibacy, impaired psychosexual development of priests and religious, a victim-to-perpetrator cycle, the seminary system, secrecy — all of which have combined to create a culture in which the abuse of children and vulnerable adults not only happens but propagates," Kovacs said.

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