A Kelowna, B.C., man has filed a $6.9-million lawsuit against an Edmonton Catholic school and the religious order that runs it claiming he was sexually abused by a priest beginning when he was 12 years old.
“For 38 years, my memories of the abuse remained hidden deep, within my subconscious: leaking poison into every decision I ever made in life. I never trusted anyone, not even family,” the 52-year-old Stephen Gregory Bounds said.
“The trauma has caused me severe emotional, physical, financial, and health problems – including addiction,” he said. “The trauma has wreaked havoc on all my relationships, whether personal or occupational. I have felt I have been alone in my life, never really understanding what was wrong with me or like I belonged.”
In a statement of claim, filed Aug. 14 in Edmonton’ Court of King’s Bench (the province’s equivalent of B.C. Supreme Court), Bounds said St. Mary’s Salesian Junior High School boarding school encouraged “a culture in which the ‘known secret’ of sexual abuse of children was fostered, tolerated and/or promoted.”
The defendants named in the case include The Salesian Society of Alberta, several umbrella Salesian Societies extending across North America, the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, St. Mary’s Salesian Junior High School Association and the estate of the late Marc Desjardins, a pastoral assistant.
The claim said the institutional defendants are vicariously liable for Desjardins’ actions.
Bounds said the public often see such lawsuits as money grabs.
“They are not,” he said. “I deserve accountability. I deserve truth. And I deserve to be made whole for the terrible harms and losses I have suffered in life, through no fault of my own. I was just a child.”
Bounds began grade seven studies at St. Mary’s Salesian Junior High residential boarding school in September, 1983, according to the court document. The school, which closed in 1991, was operated by the Salesians of Don Bosco West, said the claim.
It alleges Desjardins began grooming Bounds for sexual abuse shortly after his enrolment.
The claim alleges the priest sexual touched with the plaintiff and forced the boy to engage in sexual acts, including masturbation and oral sex.
The claim said Desjardins was the dormitory supervisor at St. Mary’s Maynard Hall.
“In his capacity as dormitory supervisor, Desjardins had unsupervised overnight access to the boys living in Maynard Hall, including the 12-year-old plaintiff,” the claim said.
The claim, prepared by B.C. lawyer Sandra Kovacs, said Bounds approached school principal Father Stephen Whelan about the grooming and abuse and asked for protection from Desjardins.
“Whelan chastised the plaintiff, rejected his report of the Grooming and Sexual Batteries, and took no action to restrict Desjardins’ access to the plaintiff or other boys living at Maynard Hall or report the plaintiff’s complaint to church or secular authorities,” the claim said.
The claim further alleges Whelan was sexually abusing children while at a school in California. It said the principle there spoke to Whelan about the issues and that another priest, Salesian Brother Salvatore Billante, saw Whelan masturbating in front of children.
“In 1989, Billante himself was later himself convicted of several counts of child abuse between 1972 and 1978, and was required to register as a sex offender,” the claim said.
The claim said Whelan was specifically and deliberately transferred to Alberta to escape detection or arrest in California.
In 1984, Bounds reported the situation to his parents and police began an investigation, say court documents.
In 1984, Desjardins was criminally convicted of two counts of sexual assault and two counts of gross indecency involving four other boys from the school, aged 13 to 15 years old. Desjardins was sentenced to 16 months of prison time, the claim said.
Marion Haggarty-France, a spokesperson for the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, told Glacier Media in an emailed response that it has yet to file a response to the claim and that that it will not be making a public statement about the matter as it is before the courts.
In 2019, Silesians of Don Bosco West apologized for previous cases of child abuse that occurred under their watch.
“As Salesians, we condemn sexual abuse and are committed to securing and promoting the safety and well-being of children,” a statement said. “We know that terrible acts of abuse have happened in the past. We express our sincerest apologies to all victims and their families impacted by abuse by any member of the Salesian Order.
“We take abuse very seriously and have over the past decade implemented policies and procedures designed to better prevent and respond to child abuse.”
The statement said Salesian Order applicants must undergo stringent screening and assessment processes designed to ensure that any candidate posing a risk of engaging in sexual abuse is excluded.
“Salesian novices are subjected to psychological and sexual assessments and social media and criminal background checks,” the group said.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.