Lawsuit accuses Metro Vancouver priest of grooming and sexual abuse

— The lawsuit, brought by a woman from Haida Gwaii, seeks damages against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver and Father James Comey, who worked in parishes in Vancouver, Delta, Langley, Richmond and North Vancouver.

Vancouver Archbishop-emeritus Adam Exner.

By Jeremy Hainsworth

A Haida Gwaii woman has filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver (RCAV) alleging a priest groomed and sexually abused her while she sought help in Vancouver.

In a B.C. Supreme Court notice of civil claim filed July 4, the woman – known only as A.B. – names as defendants Father James Comey, the archdiocese, now-Bishop Gary Franken, who served as a Vancouver priest and RCAV vicar general, and former Vancouver archbishop Adam Exner.

The claim said Comey was ordained as a priest in 1970 and, between 1972 and 2015, worked for the archdiocese in parishes in Vancouver, Delta, Langley, Richmond and North Vancouver.

“Comey’s priesthood represented to the plaintiff that Comey was ethical, honourable, spiritually superior and virtuous and, as such, could be deeply trusted,” said the claim filed by lawyer Sandra Kovacs.

The claim said the action arises from the alleged exploitation of A.B. by Comey starting around 1973 and continuing to about 1990.

In 1973, A.B. was 17 and semi-homeless, depressed, suicidal and abusing alcohol and drugs, the claim says. The suit alleges A.B. went into Vancouver’s Holy Rosary Cathedral in 1973 seeking help.

There, she was introduced to Comey. That began a series of counselling sessions. Comey watched sunsets with A.B., took drives in Stanley Park and shared private intimate information about other priests, claims the suit.

Further, the claim said he took nude photos of her and expressed jealousy about her relationships with other men. The priest was also annoyed when she did not share drug treatment details with him, the claim alleges.

The claim asserts those behaviours were “a deliberate process of manipulation and trust-building used by Comey to gain access to the plaintiff, lower the plaintiff’s inhibitions, erode the plaintiff’s boundaries, and create a relationship where in he could coerce and sexually exploit the plaintiff, and ensure the plaintiff’s enduing loyalty and silence.”

That exploitation, the claim alleges, included kissing A.B., sexually touching her and, on one occasion, engaging in intercourse while he knew she was high on heroin.

Events took place at the cathedral, at her or her friends’ residences and at Comey’s Point Roberts recreational trailer. On one occasion, it occurred at in his vehicle at Spanish Banks and was interrupted by police, alleges the claim.

Reporting alleged abuse

The claim said A.B. contacted the archdiocese to report what happened to her after reading an article about clergy sexual abuse written by former Vancouver archbishop Exner in 1992.

An administrator said she would need to speak with a tribunal of priests before seeing Exner, according to the claim. A.B. suggested she would seek her own lawyer, but the administrator discouraged her from going that route, the claim says.

In February 1993, A.B. dropped off a letter for Exner and later met with him in the company of her therapist. According to the claim, Exner said he would investigate.

But in a follow-up call with Exner, he “informed the plaintiff that she must have misperceived events, that he understood from Comey that she had a troubled past, and he said that many young, troubled women like her experience ‘transference’ and imagine a romantic relationship with a priest when there was none,” the claim said.

Exner’s failure to believe A.B. revictimized her and aggravated her harms and losses, the claim alleges.

The lawsuit alleges Franken later called A.B. to intimidate her and ensure her silence.

The lawsuit noted Franken was appointed to a 2018 archdiocese case review committee looking into clergy abuses of women and children.

“There was no reference to the plaintiff’s complaint of grooming and exploitation by Comey in that 2019 report,” the claim said.

The suit alleges the RCAV failed to properly investigate or supervise Comey, had no systems to protect vulnerable people from abuse, failed to investigate complaints, failed to create an atmosphere where complaints could be believed, and reported and sought to silence or intimidate A.B.

She seeks aggravated, special and punitive damages as well as awards for loss of earning capacity and costs.

In a statement to Glacier Media, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver expressed “deep sympathy for all victims of sexual abuse.”

“We cannot make any specific comments about this case as it is now before the courts,” said communications manager Matthew Furtado. “But we hope the attendant publicity will help give any other victims/survivors the confidence to come forward and get the healing they deserve.”

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