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Former B.C. seminary student suing estate of dead priest over alleged sexual abuse

A man is alleging a Roman Catholic priest fondled him and then sexually abused him when he was 13 years old.
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A former Mission seminary student has filed a court claim alleging sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic priest.

Warning: This story contains disturbing details that could be distressing to some readers.

Vancouver’s Roman Catholic archbishop, a Mission Catholic seminary and a dead priest have been named as defendants in a lawsuit alleging sexual and physical abuse dating to 1977.

The complainant, known only by his initials, alleges Harold Vincent Sander, also known as Father Placidus, encouraged the 13-year-old seminary student to sketch his profile.

It was in Sander’s private office that the boy’s pants and underwear were lowered to his ankles, according to a notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court on March 14.

The claim said Sander fondled the boy’s genitals and then anally penetrated him.

Named in the suit are the Seminary of Christ the King; Westminster Abbey Ltd.; The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver, a Corporation Sole; and the estate of Harold Vincent Sander a.k.a. Dom Placidus Sander. He died in October 2021.

The suit, filed by lawyer Sandra Kovacs, asserts Sander was in a position of power and trust over the boy. It said he was a teacher and dormitory supervisor.

“At all times material to the buggery, the institutional defendants, collectively and individually, were complicit in a culture of entrenched clericalism and distorted beliefs that implicitly promoted the psychosexual immaturity of priests and seminarians, perpetuating sexually deviant behaviour,” the claim said. (Court documents use the word "buggery," the term used at the time for such alleged offences.)

The suit alleges various forms of negligence, wilful blindness, recklessness and a breach of fiduciary duty.

The claim said the plaintiff has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic anger, episodes of dissociation, depression, sleep problems, anxiety, low self-esteem, distorted thinking, and impaired ability to trust authority, others and familial relationships.

Archdiocese spokesperson Makati Marquis said the archdiocese couldn’t comment as the case is before the courts.

Abbey spokesperson Benedict Lefebvre said the civil claim has been received.

“We are aware that the plaintiff was one of several complainants in criminal proceedings against Fr. Placidus Sander, now deceased, which occurred in 1997 and which resulted in Fr. Sander being acquitted of all charges,” Lefebvre said. “ This current civil matter is being handled by our legal counsel and as it is a matter in litigation, we cannot offer any further comment.

Previous seminary attendees named

The claim said three seminary graduates have been criminally convicted of child molestation: George Gordon, Paul Blancard and Christopher Paul Neil.

A 2019 report looking at priest sexual abuse, published by the Archdiocese of Vancouver, named Gordon and Blancard.

RCMP investigated Blancard regarding an incident in Burnaby in 1967 or 1968 involving a sexual assault of a girl, aged six or seven, in St. Helen’s Parish. No charges were laid.

A complaint, regarding his time in the Diocese of Victoria, was made to the RCMP in 1990. Charges were laid in 1992. Blancard was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison. In 2016, police received two more allegations dating to his time at St. Helen's Parish.

Gordon, who died in 2000, was charged in connection with abuse of three boys in the 1950s at Holy Rosary Cathedral. The behaviour was reported at the cathedral at the time, and again in 1967. He remained in ministry until two of the victims reported the crimes to the archdiocese and police in 1989. At the time, he acknowledged the existence of other victims. Gordon was convicted in 1992 and sentenced to six months in jail.

Neil, known to some as "Swirl Face," pleaded guilty to five charges in December 2015, including invitation to sexual touching and sexual touching of two Cambodian boys aged nine and 13, and possession of child pornography. He also pleaded guilty to accessing child pornography in breach of his parole conditions.

In 2016, B.C. Supreme Court sentenced Neil to 5.5 years in prison for the offences against the Cambodians as well as for accessing and possessing child pornography.

The Seminary of Christ the King did not respond to a request for comment.

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