Elderly former Vancouver archbishop ordered to face questions in sex abuse case

An elderly former archbishop has been ordered to be examined for discovery in preparation for yet another trial concerning alleged abuse connected to the Catholic church in B.C.

Archbishop Emeritus Adam Exner, 91, is compelled to be questioned as a witness in a civil case filed by a man who says he was subjected to sexual and physical abuse while he was a teenage student at the Seminary of Christ the King in Mission, according to a ruling from a B.C. Supreme Court judge.

Mark O’Neill alleges Exner is vicariously liable for abuse he suffered, arguing the archbishop failed to take action to deal with the known risk caused by the Benedictine brothers and others he has named in his lawsuit, Justice Warren Milman wrote.

Exner has been held responsible for sexual abuse by a priest in the past in his role as Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Kamloops.

B.C. Supreme Court is considering allegations of historical sexual and physical abuse at the Seminary of Christ the King in Mission. (Google Maps)

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver opposed O’Neill’s application to have Exner called as a witness, saying Exner’s advanced age and poor health should exclude him.

But O’Neill’s lawyer pointed out that Exner was well enough to testify in October 2019 in connection with the sexual misconduct of a former Kamloops priest, and said there’s nothing in a report filed by his doctor that suggests he is incompetent to testify.

Milman said he had reviewed the transcripts from Exner’s 2019 testimony, and he’s satisfied the elderly witness “was generally able to answer the questions put to him, although it is clear that his memory frequently failed him.”

The key question set out in case law, according to the judge, is whether a witness is “able to understand the nature and quality of the oath” to tell the truth. In this case, Exner’s doctor said he is able to understand.

Milman said that in order to protect Exner’s health, he should be questioned by teleconference from his home, with about five hours of examination split over two days.

Exner ‘chose not to act’ in previous sexual abuse case

O’Neill’s abuse claims date back to the 1970s, when he was a seminary student between the ages of 13 and 17.

The named defendants in his claim include the Seminary of Christ the King, Westminster Abbey, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver, Benedictine brothers Emerick Lazar and Harold Vincent Sander, also known as Dom Placidus Sander, Shawn Rohrback and a John Doe.

Exner was archbishop for Vancouver, with jurisdiction over the Mission seminary, in the 1990s — decades after the alleged abuse.

“While he held that position, however, one of the other defendants was tried criminally for some of the events in issue in this proceeding and acquitted. Archbishop Exner was personally involved in dealing with the consequences of that criminal trial,” Milman wrote.

“Several documents from that era, some in Archbishop Exner’s own handwriting, have been produced by the archbishop and suggest that Archbishop Exner had at least some indirect personal involvement in possibly relevant events at that time.”

Milman’s ruling was handed down in November but posted online last week. The case has yet to go to trial.

Exner was found to have failed in his duties in the Kamloops sex abuse case in a decision handed down last year. A judge found Exner had ample evidence that Father Erlindo Molon was taking sexual advantage of his female parishioners but “chose not to act.”

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