CNWE-Canada Applauds Supreme Court Ruling in Favour of Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivor, Irene Deschenes in her Battle for Justice Against Diocese of London

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 11, 2021

While justice has been done today, Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (CNWE) -Canada calls Diocese of London to enter into mediated settlement with Irene Deschenes, rather than re-victimizing Irene with another civil process. 

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in favour of clergy sexual abuse survivor Irene Deschenes and her right to a new settlement with the Diocese of London. The Diocese misrepresented itself in the initial settlement, claiming no knowledge of the abuse, when in fact it had received a police report of three victims abused by Fr. Charles Sylvestre almost a decade before Irene was abused. In 2006, Fr. Sylvestre pleaded guilty and was convicted of the historical sexual abuse of dozens of girls over a period of 36 years. 

Rather than settling with Irene and offering her healing in this decades-long battle, the Diocese appealed the decisions of two lower courts that ruled in favour of Irene, and took this case to the highest court in the land. This misuse of legal power and resources by the diocese contradicts Vatican and diocesan guidelines recommending expeditious, just and compassionate settlements for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. The statement from the Diocese of London, following the ruling today says: “We believe in treating victims with the empathy and respect needed to help them receive justice and begin the healing process.” It’s long past time for the Diocese of London to make this claim credible and enter into mediation for a swift and just settlement with Irene Deschenes.  

Catholic Network for Women’s Equality continues to stand in solidarity with Irene Deschenes and all survivors of clergy sexual abuse.


Statement: Catholic Network for Women’s Equality – Canada Welcomes Pope Francis’ Appointment of First Woman to Synod of Bishops: Another Step Forward but Not Enough

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 8, 2021 (REVISED* February 11, 2021)

Catholic Network for Women’s Equality – Canada Welcomes Pope Francis’ Appointment of First Woman to Synod of Bishops:  Another Step Forward but Not Enough

Catholic Network for Women’s Equality – Canada (CNWE) says that while Pope Francis’ recent appointment of Sister Nathalie Becquart to the position of Under-Secretary to the Synod of Bishops is a step forward for women in the church, equality for women in the Church still has a long way to go. 

On February 6, the Vatican announced the appointment of Sister Nathalie Becquart of France as Under-Secretary to the Synod of Bishops. For the first time, a woman will have voting rights at the vital decision-making synods of bishops that have occurred every few years since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Pope Francis also named Italian magistrate Catia Summaria as the first woman in the role of Promoter of Justice in the Vatican’s Court of Appeals. We congratulate Sister Nathalie Becquart and magistrate Catia Summaria on these appointments. 

Catholics around the world, seeking justice and equality for women in the Church, have been calling for voting rights for women in the deliberations of the Church since before Vatican II. On one level, the members of CNWE celebrate these appointments. The appointments  represent decades of persistent advocacy by Catholic reform groups, women religious and some clergy. The appointments also signify that Pope Francis is listening and taking initial steps  to ‘open the door’ to women’s greater participation in decision-making roles in the Church.

CNWE is also concerned, however, that the Vatican appointment of women to a few high-level positions is also a form of ‘tokenism’. To have only one woman permitted to vote at a church synod, is in no way sufficiently representative of Catholic women, who make up more than half the church. While we welcome Pope Francis’ recent appointments as small steps forward, CNWE will continue to work for full recognition of the baptismal equality of women in an inclusive, just and accountable Catholic Church.  

*REVISION: Although our original statement of February 8 reported (based on credible mainstream press reports) that the Vatican had put the German Catholic women’s organization, Maria 2.0 ‘under observation’, we have since learned that this is not the case.


CNWE Supports Irene Deschenes, Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivor

This fall, CNWE members across Canada sent letters to Bishop Ronald Fabbro of London, Ontario asking him to mediate a just settlement with Irene Deschenes.

Irene is a clergy sexual abuse survivor at the heart of a decades-long legal battle with the Diocese of London. She was 10 years old and a member of St. Ursula Catholic School and Parish in Chatham, ON when she was sexually abused by Fr. Charles Sylvestre in the early 1970s. 

Irene filed a lawsuit with the Diocese in 1996 and settled out of court in 2000. At that time, the Diocese of London claimed it did not learn of Fr. Sylvestre’s sexual abuse of minors until the late 1980’s. 

In 2006, Fr. Sylvestre pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting 47 girls under the age of 18, including Irene Deschenes. At that time, it came to light that the Diocese had received police statements that Fr. Sylvestre had sexually assaulted three girls in 1962, almost a decade before Ms. Deschenes was sexually assaulted. If the Diocese had acted on this information at the time, the sexual assault of Irene Deschenes and 43 additional girls could have been prevented. 

With this revelation, Ms. Deschenes sought to have her original lawsuit thrown out. A superior court judge ruled in Irene Deschenes’ favour but the Diocese of London appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal. The Appeal Court also sided with Irene Deschenes in May 2020, saying that there had been significant “misrepresentation” by the Church that impacted the original settlement. The court also said evidence that the Diocese tried to cover up the allegations of sexual abuse is “relevant to the consideration of fairness and justice.”

The Diocese of London has now filed for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, rather than mediate a new settlement with Ms. Deschenes. As Irene Deschenes says: “It’s painful enough to try to recover from the effects of sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic priest; it’s even more painful to recover from the effects of legal bullying that the Church and their lawyers put victims through again and again. If we go to mediation, this painful process will be expedited, and I can finally get on with my life.” (The Canadian Press, August 20, 2020) 

We hope you will join in supporting Irene Deschenes in calling the Diocese of London to justice.