Published: May 6, 2022
Sexual abuse at the hands of a Calgary Catholic priest nearly a half-century ago has caused a lifetime of heartache for a central Alberta man, a $2.95-million lawsuit claims.
The suit, filed by a plaintiff using only his initials, says Father Frank Van Tighem’s abuse included using the threat of eternal damnation to facilitate his criminal behaviour.
It names Van Tighem and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary as defendants.
“Beginning in 1973 when the plaintiff was 11 years old and for three years thereafter, Van Tighem sexually abused, assaulted and molested the plaintiff,” says a statement of claim filed in Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench.
“In order to facilitate the abuse Van Tighem … engaged in a pattern of behaviour which was intended to make the plaintiff feel that his soul was in jeopardy.”
The statement of claim says Van Tighem was ordained as a Catholic priest on June 4, 1960. It does not say whether it is believed he is still alive, but if so, Van Tighem would be 96 years old.
The disgraced priest was sentenced to two years less a day to be followed by two years of probation in January 1995 for sexually molesting seven girls between the ages of six and 17.
The abuse occurred over a period of 27 years from the time he was ordained up until 1987.
At the time, then-provincial court Judge John James noted the impact of Van Tighem’s abuse was grave, but the priest was deeply remorseful for his conduct.
He also said Van Tighem suffered from the publicity surrounding his prosecution.
“The significant public recognition and attendant denunciation of his conduct bring home to those who might be inclined to commit similar offences the degree of public humiliation and scorn that may follow,” James said.
The lawsuit, filed by London, Ont., personal injury lawyer Robert Talach, states the plaintiff will argue Van Tighem’s 1994 convictions for abusing those other young victims will be raised as similar fact evidence in his case.
The claim says the plaintiff, now 59, has experienced a lifetime of trauma as a result of the abuse, including “impairment of his opportunity to experience a normal childhood, adolescence and adulthood,” alcohol and drug abuse and suicidal thoughts.
“The plaintiff was deprived of a normal healthy adolescence as a result of the actions or inactions of the defendants. The life of the plaintiff was fundamentally and forever changed by the above-noted behaviour.”
The diocese was to blame by teaching the plaintiff Catholic doctrine including “that priests are chosen representatives on earth of God and have special powers” and failing to follow church rules, principles and ideologies will send you to hell.
Statements of defence to the unproven allegations have not been filed.