Woman says Nanaimo priest may have more abuse victims

Woman says Nanaimo priest may have more abuse victims

A woman who reached an agreement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria this month says she was sexually assaulted repeatedly by Father Gerhard Hartmann at St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, beginning in 1976 when she was 10 years old

Warning: This story contains descriptions of child sexual abuse.

A Vancouver Island woman who says she was sexually assaulted as a child by a Catholic priest with a Nazi past is telling her story because she believes there are other victims.

This month the woman reached an agreement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria.

Her lawsuit alleges that she was repeatedly sexually assaulted and harassed by Father Gerhard Hartmann in the confessional at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Nanaimo, beginning in 1976 when she was 10 years old and continuing until 1979 when Hartmann suddenly dating removed from the parish.

According to her lawsuit, Hartmann touched, kissed, stroked, and penetrated the girl with his fingers.

“I came forward because I think it’s really important to tell the story,” said the 57-year-old woman, who only wants to be identified by her initials SP. “I guess I’m not the only one who was attacked by that priest. I think he was a practiced pedophile and he felt confident that he could do that, especially during the sacred time of confession.”

Hartmann was transferred from Nanaimo to St. Bonaventure Parish in Port Hardy. He later served at St Mary’s in Port McNeill and St Theresa’s in Port Alice. He retired from St. Rose of Lima in Sooke in 2008 and died in 2015.

There could be victims of the priest across Vancouver Island, SP said

Now that the lawsuit is settled, she recognizes that it is harder to “carry it in silence” than to speak out. “What makes speaking up easier is knowing you’re not alone. And I want others to know that they are not alone and that it’s okay to speak up.”

The woman, who came from a large Catholic family, said she was sexually assaulted in the confessional every week.

“The sexual assault has completely destroyed me,” SP said, “it destroys your mental, spiritual and physical well-being.”

She said she lost her career in education and struggled to maintain her physical and mental health. She feels lucky to be recovering from drug and alcohol abuse. At one point she was suicidal.

“It was a big fight. I’ve lived my whole life with a lot of shame and guilt. It was only when I started the settlement process that my lawyer helped me to contact a very experienced advisor.”

Her attorney, Robert Talach, has been involved in 450 cases against the Catholic Church in Canada.

He believes Hartmann was “silently” moved to the remote community of Port Hardy because someone reported him or was suspicious of him.

Hartmann should have been at St. Peter’s Basilica for five years, but he was there for barely two years, Talach said.

“It was not only a premature move, but also a geographical consideration when you almost send him to the diocesan Siberia. if [the silent shuffle] can be affirmed, it really helps the church to learn that it is their fault.”

Born in Germany in 1929, Hartmann served in the Hitler Youth, where he helped defend Berlin and the Hitler Bunker as the Soviets approached. He was captured and spent years in prison until he was able to emigrate to Canada.

Hartmann converted from his Lutheran faith to Catholicism. He made friends with some priests and applied for the priesthood. Despite Hartmann’s Nazi past, Bishop Remi De Roo accelerated his seminary studies, Talach said. Hartmann was ordained in Victoria in January 1976 at the age of 46.

SP did not tell her parents about the abuse because of his connection to De Roo. At that time, the bishop on Vancouver Island, who died this year, was “hero-worshipped,” she said.

“I felt really helpless to come forward as a kid,” she said.

“My parents invited Bishop Remi De Roo to our house for dinner. He was considered a hero. But he has unearthed a very concerned, complicated man who, with all due diligence, should have been shielded as inappropriate. He had power as bishop and in his role as Commissioner for Human Rights he should have known how to do it. Instead, he handpicked him and moved him all over Vancouver Island.”

SP said she tried to get in touch several times. In the early 2000s, she wrote a letter to the diocese and was disappointed to receive a form letter in reply. Three years ago she saw on the news that a group of survivors had gone to a Canadian bishops’ conference with their own money to demand more accountability from the bishops.

“I fought myself. I thought, ‘I don’t know how they can do that. How brave are you that you can do this.’ I figured the least I could do was write a letter again.”

This time she got a call, a message from the bishop on her answering machine.

“There was no understanding of the trauma in that voice. It was really insensitive. It shook me to the core and I realized the church has a long, long way to go before it resolves it.”

She turned to Talach, known as the “Priest Hunter.”

“I decided that as hard as it was to sue the church, maybe it was the right thing to do. It motivated me to ask myself, out of all my peers that I have attended church with, who else has been hurting like me?”

There is a red link on the diocese’s website to report sexual abuse. It says the diocese has hired an outside agency to serve as the first point of contact for all sexual abuse cases and is offering a toll-free number (1-800-968-3146) with a trained counselor to help with reporting claims afford to.

But SP says the internal reporting system is not enough. “I’ll only begin to feel that the church is finally ready to deal with this when the red button connects you directly to the police.”

As early as 1962, the Vatican prepared a document to deal with the problem of sexual incitement in the confessional, Talach said. The document, which can be found on the Vatican’s website, ordered secrecy in cases of sexual misconduct by priests.

“The church knew it had a problem with priests proposing and sexually harassing people in the confessional,” Talach said. “This document would have applied in this case.”

In a memo Thursday to the local parish, Bishop Gary Gordon of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria said the news of the Hartmann case was “undoubtedly worrying for survivors of sexual abuse victims, to whom we would like to pledge our support,” adding also reactions of pain, anger and shame in the members of the diocese.

It could also provide an opportunity for “other victim survivors to come forward so there can be healing and justice,” he wrote.

Gordon said in the memo he could not discuss details of the case, but that the diocese now has a “responsible ministry” program designed to screen members of the clergy, volunteers and employees and establish protocols to ensure safe environments for to protect children and others who are vulnerable.

The diocese’s independent sexual abuse reporting agency is run by psychologists, counselors and social workers, Gordon said, adding it takes courage to report sexual abuse.

If desired, the diocese will offer support to individuals and their families, Gordon wrote.

“The process for a pastoral encounter includes compassionate listening, acknowledgment of the person’s courage to speak up, acknowledgment and acknowledgment of the pain caused, reassurance that it is never the fault of the victim-survivor, expression of deep remorse and sorrow on our part, and ultimately empowerment .”

In the spring, an independent agent was hired to conduct a review of historical clergy records to identify known allegations of wrongdoing in order to better respond to victim survivors and allegations, the memo said.

[email protected]

— With files by Carla Wilson

>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *