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Catholic church files defence in Furlong abuse lawsuit

The operator of the Catholic elementary school where John Furlong worked as a volunteer physical education teacher in 1969 and 1970 denies the former Vancouver Winter Olympics chief executive abused two of his ex-students.

In B.C. Supreme Court defence filings, Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of Prince Rupert and Catholic Independent Schools Diocese of Prince George denied Beverly Abraham and Grace West's allegations of physical abuse, sexual touching and defamation. Their July 24-filed lawsuits claimed Furlong abused them while they studied at Immaculata Elementary School in Burns Lake, B.C.

West's lawsuit said the abuse prompted her parents to transfer her to a school in Smithers, B.C., but the diocese's Sept. 9-registered response claimed there was no record that West "or anyone with the birthdate of the plaintiff" attended Immaculata in 1969 and 1970.

"The commission of physical and/or sexual assaults were not acts which Furlong was in any way authorized or directed to commit in the course or scope of his employment," stated the response, filed by diocese lawyer Paul Fairweather. "These defendants deny that Furlong carried out the alleged assaults."

The response said that if Furlong did commit the assaults as alleged, "these defendants are not vicariously liable for the alleged assaults."

Furlong has yet to file a response in this action. None of the allegations made by Abraham and West has been proven in court. The diocese operates 18 parishes, 20 missions and eight schools in northern British Columbia. It is headed by the Bishop of Prince George, Most Rev. Stephen Jensen, who was installed on April 2.

The lawsuits are related to complaints made to the RCMP in 2012 and the Sept. 27, 2012 Georgia Straight expose that alleged Furlong abused students and hid his initial life in Canada from readers of his 2011-published Patriot Hearts memoir, which said he arrived from his native Ireland in 1974 at Edmonton. Furlong denied the abuse allegations, but admitted at a news conference on Sept. 27, 2012 that he had lived in northern B.C. He called his time there "brief" and "uneventful."

Prince George Citizen newspaper archives indicate Furlong fled Prince George in 1972 so he could return to Ireland after he was threatened and assaulted while acting as a soccer referee.

Furlong sued the Georgia Straight and reporter Laura Robinson for defamation last November. Their January defence statements included new and expanded allegations. Furlong filed a long-overdue rebuttal on July 26, that said Furlong's lawyer "has been informed no charges have been laid and no report will be made to Crown counsel."

Abraham and West's lawyer, Jason Gratl, complained July 29 to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, accusing the Mounties of bias and improperly communicating with Furlong's lawyer.

"The RCMP have a heightened duty to ensure that the sexual assault investigations of Mr. Furlong do not appear to be tainted by interference, indifference or incompetence," Gratl wrote. "To date, that duty has not been met."

Meanwhile, the coroner's inquest into the April 11 death of Furlong's third wife, Deborah Sharp Furlong, was opened Aug. 16 but adjourned until Jan. 27, 2014, according to the Dublin District Coroner's Office. Sharp, a 48-year-old TV producer, died in a head-on crash near Furlong's house in rural Gorey, Ireland.

The Irish police service will update the coroner on their investigation at the next scheduled hearing.

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

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