Winnipeg man who alleges 2 Catholic priests sexually abused him as a child sues Archdiocese of St. Boniface

WARNING: The following story contains distressing details of sexual abuse of a child.

A man who alleges two Catholic priests sexually abused him as a child three decades ago is taking the Archdiocese of St. Boniface to court.

The Winnipeg man, now 44, is suing the Archdiocese of St. Boniface, the archbishop of St. Boniface and the Red River Valley School Division. 

The man alleges the abuses happened in 1990 and 1991 when he was a student at St. Jean Baptiste Elementary, then a part of the Red River Valley School Division.

He attended the school from 1984 to 1992, according to the lawsuit filed in Manitoba’s Court of King’s Bench on May 15.

The man was also a member of St. Jean Baptiste Church, court documents say, management of which fell under the purview of the Archdiocese of St. Boniface.

CBC News is not reporting the name of the man because the alleged assaults happened when he was a minor. None of the allegations have been proven in court. 

The lawsuit accuses two priests — Leo Couture and Rene Touchette — of sexual assault.

It notes Touchette is deceased and names Couture as a defendant. However, Couture died at the age of 92 a few days before the court document was filed, Radio-Canada reported.

Both men were priests at the St. Jean Baptise church and had “unfettered access to students” at the school, the lawsuit alleges.

The plaintiff was “dependent on, took instruction from and was required to submit to” both men, the court filing says.

The lawsuit says Touchette was involved in sexual assaults in Somerset, Man., and then transferred by the archdiocese to the St. Jean Baptiste church. That’s when the man alleges Touchette sexually assaulted him.

Touchette was removed from St. Jean Baptiste Elementary and the St. Jean Baptiste church in 1990.

He was charged in 1992 and convicted in 1993 of sexual assault in connection with Somerset incidents, the lawsuit says.

Touchette died in 2012 at the age of 71, an obituary in the Winnipeg Free Press said.

Assaults happened in convent: lawsuit

The plaintiff alleges Touchette and Couture asked him to help with church duties during lunch and after school on multiple occasions starting when he was 10 or 11.

During those times, he alleges the priests took him to a convent building adjacent to St. Jean Baptiste Elementary and forced him to strip and try on different pants.

The priests exposed themselves, forced him to touch them sexually and “violently and forcefully” molested and sodomized him, court documents say. 

The assaults allegedly happened half a dozen times in 1990 and 1991.

“As a result, the plaintiff sustained physical injuries, significant emotional and psychological pain and trauma and mental distress,” the lawsuit states.

The man alleges the archdiocese knew or should have known what was happening, and it — along with the school division — failed to keep him safe or investigate reports against clergy members.

The lawsuit suggests Touchette was moved “from one church to another,” and that there were complaints from other victims. Complaints were also made about Couture, the lawsuit says.

The plaintiff has since struggled to hold a job and pursue an education, the lawsuit says, and that’s resulted in him struggling to get by.

The man is seeking unspecified damages for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, humiliation, loss of dignity, sleep issues, emotional stress and impacts on family and social relationships.

No statement of defence had been filed by Friday morning. CBC News also sought a response Friday morning from Red River School Division’s superintendent and the Archdiocese of St. Boniface but did not get a reply before publication.

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.