Val Borrelli needed help. His priest allegedly saw an easy target.
Borrelli was a young Windsor boy struggling with the death of his father when his family turned to Rev. Ermete Nazzani, known as Father Herm, for guidance.
Instead of helping him, Nazzani subjected Borrelli to years of escalating sexual abuse and intimidation, according to a new lawsuit.
“They introduced me to this priest, Father Herm, as a way of explaining to me heaven and hell, and what happens when you die,” said Borrelli, 55. “It put me on his radar. He invited me to be an altar boy.”
The lawsuit, filed by Becket law firm in London, names the Diocese of London and the Scalabrinian Fathers religious order as defendants. The order, based in Illinois, is also known as St. John The Baptist Province of The Fathers of St. Charles.
Nazzani, who died in 2015, was employed by the order. But he worked under the London diocese as a visiting priest at St. Angela Merici and St. Patrick’s parishes in Windsor, according to the statement of claim. The order did not respond to requests for comment. The diocese said it can’t discuss the allegations.
“We cannot comment on the specifics of this case because it is currently before the courts,” said spokesman Matthew Clarke. “The Diocese of London does help provide access to counselling and support based on the specific needs of each individual. We continue to pray for the comfort and healing of all victims of clergy sexual abuse.”
Borrelli said he hopes to use any settlement from the lawsuit, which seeks $3.9 million, to fund victim support services in Windsor. He envisions something similar to a Guelph-based organization he joined called Recovery Speaking Initiative.
“There’s really nothing down here for men,” said Borrelli.
“Helping guys in my situation, it’s really all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done being in this group and talking about our problems.”
The alleged abuse started in 1975 when Borelli was about nine years old, according to the statement of claim.
Borrelli said his family was “destroyed” by the sudden death of his father from a massive heart attack. Perplexed by how to explain the death to him, his family sent him to Nazzani.
After Borrelli became an altar server, an older boy befriended him.
“We were made to go to confession all the time,” said Borrelli. “We found wine all the time. There was always wine around. This other altar boy introduced me to what I’d be doing, and proceeded to make me watch him do things to this priest.”
It wasn’t long before Borrelli was allegedly forced to do more than watch. He said Nazzani kept him quiet by threatening to tell his older brother that he had stolen the wine.
Borrelli said the abuse ended around the end of his Grade 8 year, when his family temporarily returned to Italy.
“We went to Italy and my life was supposed to be better,” said Borrelli. “But it wasn’t.”
The statement of claim chronicles a life plagued by fallout from the abuse, including flashbacks, panic attacks and suicide attempts. Borrelli said he spent decades trying to obliterate the painful memories and shame with alcohol and drugs.
But after checking into rehab at Guelph’s Homewood Health Centre in 2018, Borrelli said he had to finally face his past.
“One of the consequences of sobriety is you’ve got to deal with your (expletive), or you end up drinking,” he said. “When I went to Homewood I wasn’t really dealing with sex abuse. I was dealing with alcoholism because I’ve been so ashamed of bringing it up. I thought I’d buried it.”
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