PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A lawsuit filed this week accuses a former Providence priest of trafficking children for sexual purposes.
The priest named in the lawsuit, Normand Demers, is on the list released by the Diocese of Providence last year of clergy “credible accused” of abusing minors. Demers died in 2018, according to an obituary.
The lawsuit describes instances where the Diocese became aware of child sexual abuse allegations but looked the other way.
The plaintiff in the case, Robert Houllahan, says in the suit that he was sexually abused by Demers in the 1970s when he was 7 years old.
Houllahan’s attorney, Timothy Conlon, says in addition to the sexual abuse allegations, Demers used his charitable work with an orphanage in Haiti as a way to traffic children for sex.
“This man was cycling children from outside the country into Rhode Island, housing them in the rectory for a long period of time,” Conlon told Eyewitness News Friday. “It’s sex trafficking.”
The lawsuit says “[Demers] used the Parish to house male children that he had brought into the country, keeping between 3 to 6 children on the premises, and sending back at least one of those children when that child rebuffed his sexual attempts.”
The Diocese knew of his misconduct, but did nothing, according to the lawsuit.
The diocese released a statement Friday saying it hasn’t received a copy of the lawsuit and Demers was removed from ministry in 2002 following a credible allegation of abuse:
“A lawsuit was filed Thursday stoking allegations from several decades ago against a deceased former priest, Normand Demers. Notably, while the press received the lawsuit, the accused defendants have still not been provided a copy. Demers was removed from ministry in 2002 following a credible allegation of abuse. His removal and investigations, both by Rhode Island and Haitian civil authorities, were well-documented in the local media at that time. All allegations against Demers have been reported to law enforcement. For over twenty years it has been diocesan policy to report each and every allegation of clergy sexual abuse of a minor – regardless of credibility – to law enforcement.”
The diocese and current Bishop Thomas Tobin are among the defendants.
By allowing Demers to continue working as a priest, the lawsuit claims the Diocese enabled the sexual abuse of children.
“Had they been upfront with people instead of covering for them, the parents could have protected their kids,” Conlon added.