A woman who claims a priest in the diocese of Fredericton tried to kill her is suing him, the Anglican Church of Canada, the diocese of Fredericton, and the Corporation of the Anglican Parish of St. Stephen (Christ Church Anglican), in St. Stephen, N.B.
Cynthia Mae Moore claims that she and the Rev. William Morton, who was rector at the Anglican Parish of St. Stephen, had an extra-marital affair between February 2012 and December 2015.
She alleges that on Nov. 24, 2015, while she was visiting Morton at his house, he threatened to skin her alive and scrape her breasts with a box cutter, according to a statement of claim filed with the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saint John, N.B., October 2.
After she left, Moore alleges that Morton came to her house and attempted to kill her. “He succeeded in cutting her breasts and abdomen with a box cutter,” the statement of claim reads.
Moore alleges that on December 8, 2015, Morton attacked her again and “attempted to kill her with a knife to her throat.”
According to the CBC, that same day, Morton was arrested and charged with two counts of assault with a weapon after “the St. Stephen RCMP received a 911 call about a disturbance involving a man and a woman, shortly before 1 a.m.” Morton, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, was ordered to undergo a 30-day psychiatric assessment. He later changed his pleas to guilty of both offences on August 23, 2016.
On October 25, 2016, Morton was convicted on two counts of assault with a weapon in relation to these incidents and received two 15-month conditional sentences, to be served concurrently, and was ordered to pay a victim fine surcharge of $100 for each offence.
The statement of claim asserts that Morton breached his fiduciary relationship with Moore as her spiritual leader and counsellor when he “took advantage of her vulnerability and commenced a sexual affair, which ended in the horrific assaults on her person.”
According to the document, Moore was having marital problems and began counselling sessions with Morton around March 2008.
As a result of Morton’s actions, her “faith and trust in the Anglican church have been damaged,” according to Moore, who says she was employed part-time at the church office, and served as a volunteer greeter, reader and head server. She “has not been able to worship at Christ Church, Saint Stephen, has lost the sense of community she once had as a member of the Defendant Church and she struggles with feelings of betrayal by the Defendant Church,” according to the statement of claim.
The statement of claim also alleges that Moore suffered ongoing psychological injury from the incidents, including PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and suicidal ideation, and has been unable to work.
The suit names the Anglican Parish of St. Stephen, the diocese of Fredericton and the Anglican Church of Canada as “vicariously liable” for Morton’s actions, claiming “it was or ought to have been aware” of Morton’s alcohol abuse and “took no steps to oversee or supervise the Defendant Morton in his role as a clergyman, knowing that in such a role it was usual and normal for parishioners to seek counselling and place trust and reliance in the clergy.”
Meghan Kilty, the Anglican Church of Canada’s communications director, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
In an email to the Anglican Journal, diocese of Fredericton communications officer Giselle McKnight also declined to comment, citing the impending court process. While there are no statements of defence as of yet, a Notice of Intent to Defend was filed November 2.
Morton is listed as “clergy on leave” in the diocese’s church directory; the diocese has also advertised a position for priest/rector in the Anglican Parish of St. Stephen.
The Saint Croix Courier reported that during his sentencing Judge Henrik Tonning determined Morton, who had no previous criminal record, “did not present a danger to the community” and “was satisfied nothing like this will happen again as he is receiving the treatment he needs.”
The conditions of Morton’s sentence included attending a rehabilitation program, abstaining from alcohol, continuing counselling, living under house arrest for the first five months of his sentence and having no contact with Moore.