So-called playboy priest's abuse in Kamloops in 1970s results in court award of more than $800,000

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      Father Erlindo Molon took a vow of celibacy when he joined the Catholic priesthood.

      But despite this, he began a sexual relationship in the mid 1970s with an elementary school teacher, Rosemary Anderson, at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic school in Kamloops.

      According to a B.C. Supreme Court judgment released on August 26, the relationship ended in early 1977. And in 2016, Anderson filed a lawsuit seeking damages against Molon, now 70 years old, and the Diocese of Kamloops "primarily based on battery arising from the sexual relationship".

      The claim against the church was rooted in the "alleged wrongful conduct" of the then bishop of Kamloops, Adam Exner. He's Archbishop Emeritus of Vancouver, having been the head of this archdiocese from 1991 to 2004.

      Exner "effectively conceded a failure of leadership, responsibility, and care", wrote Justice David Crossin in his ruling.

      As a result, Crossin awarded Anderson, now 70 years old, more than $800,000.

      That included nonpecuniary damages of $275,000, punitive damages of $250,000 against Molon, punitive damages of $150,000 against the diocese of Kamloops, loss of past income of $125,000, cost of future care of $25,000, and special damages of $19,140.

      "Bishop Exner characterized Fr. Molon as a 'playboy priest'," Crossin wrote in his decision. "He testified that in the spring of 1976 he had heard rumours of alleged sexual impropriety by Fr. Molon with parishioners. People would come to him with 'insinuations' regarding such impropriety but stated it was never revealed to him the particular names of the parishioners that might be involved.

      "He stated he 'couldn't get a handle on it'," Crossin continued. "Bishop Exner confirmed that there were 'quite a few' complaints of this nature concerning Fr. Molon throughout 1976."

      The ruling states that Exner confronted Molon in 1976.

      "According to Bishop Exner he did not deny the rumours; he 'just laughed it off'. 'I’m only human' was the response of Fr. Molon," Crossin wrote.

      "While these words used by Fr. Molon were not an explicit confession of sexual impropriety, the words could leave no doubt that the rumours were probably true and that parishioners might well have been at risk. It was apparent to me during the course of his evidence that Bishop Exner appreciated this implication at the time."

      Molon remained at the diocese and, according to Crossin's ruling, Exner "did nothing to try and curb his apparent predilections".

      "Why? Because, states Bishop Exner, Fr. Molon was popular with many parishioners and, the fact was, Bishop Exner was in desperate need of a priest," Crossin wrote.

      The Oscar-winning movie Spotlight reminded the plaintiff of the abuse she suffered in Kamloops in the 1970s.

      Near the end of 1976 or in early 1977, Molon asked Anderson if she would marry him. She testified that she asked him to seek the advice of Exner.

      "What I take from the plaintiff's evidence is that she felt the marriage would absolve the sin of having intercourse out of wedlock," Crossin stated in the ruling. "That said, she did not really want to marry Fr. Molon. The issue of marriage as well, from the plaintiff's perspective, provided a vehicle to seek some help and guidance from Bishop Exner."

      In 1977, Anderson visited Exner, disclosed their relationship, and asked if she should marry Molon. Exner testified that he discouraged them from getting married because he had concluded that Molon was taking advantage of her.

      Anderson believed that Exner had asked her to leave the diocese. However, Crossin accepted Exner's explanation that the bishop's use of the word "crucify" in the conversation was not intended to encourage her to go away.

      "The use of the word crucify, as it turned out, was an unfortunate choice of words," Crossin wrote. "It triggered an internal chain of reasoning that appeared to haunt the plaintiff for some time. The plaintiff testified that upon hearing this word she reasoned that Jesus was crucified and treated like a criminal. Therefore, as her logic unfolded, criminals were crucified. Hence, she thereafter felt like a criminal."

      After Exner confronted Molon, he "quickly disappeared" from the diocese. And Exner suspended him in 1977.

      Many years later, however, Exner agreed to help Molon obtain a ministry in the armed services, but denied actually doing this.

      "Bishop Exner agrees that he should have written the armed services and warned them of Fr. Molon, but he did not do so," Crossin wrote. 

      Anderson married another man in 1980 and had five children. Many years later, her trauma about the previous relationship with Molin was triggered by seeing the movie Spotlight, which focused on how the Catholic Church covered up widespread sexual abuse by priests in Boston.

      Last year, the Archdiocese of Vancouver released a report identifying nine clergy involved in sexual abuse.

      "I realize that no expression of regret can repair the horror of what happened," Archbishop J. Michael Miller wrote in a pastoral letter at the front of the report. "Although nothing can undo the wrong that was done to you, I nonetheless wish to offer each of you my heartfelt apology for the trauma, the violation in body and soul, and the sense of betrayal and abandonment by the Church that you feel."