Diocese of Brandon denies breach of duty in sex assault lawsuit

St. Matthew's Cathedral, Brandon, where Nigel Packwood served as dean. Photo: Abbeywood/Wikimedia
Published November 29, 2017

(This story has been updated. See correction below.)

The diocese of Brandon is contesting a lawsuit launched against it stemming from allegations of sexual assault and exploitation of a parishioner by a former priest.

The diocese is also claiming compensation for legal costs and damages from the former priest in the event her lawsuit against him is successful.

In September, a woman alleged former priest Nigel Packwood had “initiated and maintained” a sexual relationship with her, using his authority to “manipulate, control and sexually exploit” her, including forcing her to have sex with him in the sanctuary of a church and sexually assaulting her on the church pew.

The relationship, the woman alleged, began in 2001, when she started individual counselling sessions with Packwood, who was serving as her priest in western Manitoba at the time, and continued for a number of years. The woman claimed that in November 2015 she realized that Packwood had been exploiting her sexually, and made a formal complaint to the newly consecrated bishop of Brandon, William Cliff, in August 2016. Soon thereafter, Packwood resigned as a priest in the diocese, and relinquished his ministry.

The woman, whom the Anglican Journal is not naming because of the nature of the allegations, is suing both Packwood and the diocese. She alleges that the diocese, among other things, failed to “appropriately investigate and evaluate…Packwood’s background and suitability as a priest” before hiring him.

In a statement of defence filed in October, Packwood admitted he had had a sexual relationship with the woman, but claimed it was consensual and that she in many cases had initiated their sexual activity.

In its statement of defence, filed November 6, the diocese refuses to admit to the woman’s allegations against it.

“The Diocese has not breached any duties with respect to the Plaintiff nor has it been negligent in any fashion,” the document states. It contends the woman’s claims for any injuries, loss or damage as a result of alleged breaches of duty by the diocese are “remote, excessive and unforeseeable”; “vague, exaggerated and overstated”; and “the results of other incidents and events in her life both before and after the alleged actions of Packwood.”

Both Packwood and the diocese also say, in separate statements of defence, that the woman failed to make the allegations in time for them to be allowed under Manitoba’s Limitation of Actions Act, which outlines the time within which legal action must be taken for various kinds of alleged offences.

The diocese also filed a crossclaim against Packwood, claiming payment toward its legal costs. It also claims payment from Packwood “if the Plaintiff has suffered the damages and losses alleged in the Statement of Claim, and if such damages and losses were caused or contributed to by the conduct as alleged.”

In a reply to the statements of defence from both Packwood and the diocese, the woman claims that her allegations are allowable under the Limitation of Actions Act because the act makes an exception for assaults “of a sexual nature.” Also, she alleges, Packwood’s most recent sexual misdeed occurred in September 2015, within the two-year window for legal action not involving assault.

The woman is also disputing the diocese’s account of events around the time she brought her complaint before it. In its statement, the diocese says that in phone calls between the woman and Cliff between August 24 and September 7, 2016, “the Diocese expressed profound regret” to her and offered to co-operate with any criminal investigation if she decided to press charges. It also, the diocese says, told her it would pay for 10 sessions of counselling, and that she should send invoices for counselling to the diocese.

But the woman alleges she phoned Cliff to ask how to get counselling that would be paid for by the diocese, but after a number of calls, Cliff declined to speak further with her. She states that she does not remember anyone from the diocese telling her how to get funded counselling. She also says she does not recall Cliff saying the diocese would co-operate if she decided to press criminal charges.

In addition to serving as priest in a number of Manitoba parishes, Nigel Packwood was dean of St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Brandon, from 2014 until his resignation.

Editor’s note: A correction has been made to the second sentence of the 8th paragraph of this story. The original version said the diocese contends the plaintiff’s claims. It should have said the diocese is contesting the plaintiff’s claims that she suffered injuries, loss or damage as a result of alleged breaches of duty by the diocese.

A correction was also made to the last sentence of the fourth paragraph. Nigel Packwood relinquished, not renounced, his ministry. The Anglican Journal regrets both errors. 


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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