Age, ill health and apology shouldn’t keep Grecco from doing hard time, they say
13 December 2010
(SENTENCING Donald Grecco, a former priest from the Diocese of St. Catharines, runs from the Hamilton courthouse earlier this year.)
Jim Rankin/Torstar News Service
Former priest Donald Grecco is going to jail for 18 months for altar-boy sex charges.
But Ontario Superior Court Justice Kathryn Hawke’s 18-month sentence and two-year probation sentence for the former St. Catharines’ Diocese priest infuriated his victims and their families.
Grecco, 70, had pleaded guilty to three counts of gross indecency in connection with some 24 incidents involving former altar boys from Cayuga and Welland in the mid 1970s and mid 1980s.
Two of the victims, Mike Blum of Dunnville and Jim Hennessy, who lives in northwest England, took the unusual step of asking that the court-ordered publication ban on their identities be lifted. Each has launched a $3-million lawsuit against Grecco and the diocese in connection with the abuse.
Crown counsel Gregory Smith had suggested a sentence somewhere in the middle-range of a two-and-a-half to four year term penitentiary term.
But defence counsel Brian Donnelly sought a conditional sentence, combined with probation and community service, that Grecco could serve in the community.
“It was just a waste of time. I think it is just a travesty of justice. Three years in a penitentiary would have been fairer,” said Jim Hennessy Sr. who attended the hearing on behalf of his son.
The incidents followed a similar pattern.
Grecco would offer the altar boys odd jobs or take them on trips. Once alone with them, he would initiate “play-fights” that would escalate into the parish priest sexually grinding against the victim.
All three victims, all strangers, said the memories of the abuse have left them emotionally scarred. They have all become withdrawn, angry, depressed, self-loathing.
Today, in a Hamilton courtroom, they heard how Grecco will be punished for the three crimes of gross indecency to which he pleaded guilty last month. Crown counsel has asked for a prison term of between 2 ½ and four years. His defence lawyer has asked for two years less a day of house arrest.
Grecco was born in St. Catharines on March 6, 1940 to a movie projectionist/janitor father and a stay-at-home mother.
He was the second of four sons, all of whom would become priests. His parents were devout Roman Catholics who were active in Thorold, where Grecco was raised.
His brother Patrick left the priesthood about 10 years ago. His brother Richard became a bishop. Another brother, Dennis, is a professor of theology at a university.
Grecco attended Notre Dame High School in Welland. He was ordained on June 4, 1966 in St. Catharines.
After serving at St. Mary’s in Welland from 1966 to 1970, Grecco moved to St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church in Niagara Falls, where he stayed from 1970 to 1978.
In 1978, Grecco served at St. Stephen’s in Cayuga, where he came into contact with Mike Blum who has said there were 12 occasions when the priest had simulated sex with him.
In the summer of 1979, Grecco also drove a second complainant to a cottage up north where he was molested in similar fashion.
Grecco’s next stop was St. Kevin’s in Welland, where he served from 1979 to 1985. It was here that Grecco abused James Hennessy, who has said there were 10 occurrences of abuse occurring in 1984 and 1985.
Hennessy, who lives in England and has not attended the court sessions because of financial concerns, believes there are more Grecco victims who have not come forward. Hennessy said he knows for certain there is a fourth, a friend from his childhood days growing up in Welland.
Hennessy and Blum asked that the publication ban shielding their identity be lifted.
Crown counsel Gregory Smith told Ontario Justice Kathryn Hawke at a March 25 hearing that Blum complained to the diocese on Sept. 23, 1985.
“He was interviewed by a Monsignor Dominic Pizzacalla and essentially that went nowhere, Your Honour,” Smith told court. “There was nothing done at that point in time.”
From 1986 to 1996, Grecco served at St. Vincent de Paul church in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was here he would meet his future wife, Colleen, a Picton real estate agent.
From 1996 to 1998, Grecco was the parish priest at St. Alexander’s in Fonthill.
In 1998, Grecco attended Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore and obtained his bachelor of science degree in pastoral counselling.
Grecco returned to Canada in 2000 and officially left the priesthood on March 21, 2001.
From 2000 to 2008, Grecco operated a counselling service and worked for insurance companies to provide grief, marriage and family counselling, first in St. Catharines and later in Belleville and Picton.
In 2002, Grecco married Colleen, a divorcée with two grown children. In 2008, he retired from counselling and assisted his wife in her business until his arrest in September 2008.
A month after the arrest, his stepson, who suffered from depression, reportedly committed suicide at the age of 23.
Publicity from the arrest made life difficult for the couple, according to defence lawyer Brian Donnelly.
After Grecco’s guilty plea to three counts of gross indecency, a letter went out to a local Picton school making sure school authorities were aware of Grecco’s proximity to the school.
Donnelly said the publicity has caused the couple to be shunned and has impacted their relationship, and that Grecco has accumulated “substantial debt.”
“He is essentially facing financial ruin,” he said.
Donnelly said the couple have separated and appear on their way to divorce. Grecco’s stepdaughter has had no contact with him since June.
Beyond family and financial woes, Donnelly said, Grecco has major health concerns and suffers from chronic bowel disease, a degenerative disc disease, hypertension and had surgery for colon cancer in July.
Grecco also has legal problems. He was arrested Oct. 6 with breaching his bail conditions by not disclosing a change of address. But his lawyer said the breach is in connection with the two weeks Grecco spent recuperating at Quinte Gardens Retirement Residence. .
But Grecco could not find a new surety, meaning he spent more than three weeks in custody at the Quinte Detention Centre waiting for the new charges to be dealt with.
On the three counts of gross indecency to which Grecco pleaded guilty in March, Donnelly sought a conditional, non-custodial sentence to be served in the community along with a period of probation and community service “that would essentially tie him up” for the next six years.
Donnelly said the fallback position would be a sentence of two years less a day in a provincial reformatory.
He cited a number of mitigating factors, including Grecco’s health and age. He said his client had no previous record, had accepted responsibility for his actions and pleaded guilty, and that a considerable length of time had passed since the crimes. He also argued that there was no penetration and that there was no grooming with alcohol, drugs or pornography.
“In my submission there was a lower level of violation and invasiveness,” the lawyer said.”
Donnelly said Blum called Grecco before choosing to go to the police. On Aug. 27, 2008, Blum called again with a police wiretap in place.
“He asked Grecco if he remembered what happened. ‘I don’t know why I did it. I wish I could take it back. It was dumb and I was dumb,’” Donnelly quoted his client as saying.
Grecco also wrote a letter of apology that was filed with the court.
Still, Hennessy told the Spectator he wants to see Grecco serve time for his crimes.
And Blum said recently that the defence proposal for a form of house arrest for Grecco is not satisfactory.
“I think he deserves some time in jail,” the Dunnville man said.
Blum was also unimpressed with Donnelly’s submissions about the number of mitigating factors.
“I’ve been dealing with this 30 years and if he just gets a house arrest or whatever they are going to call that, I don’t agree with it,” said Blum, who would like to see Grecco receive a sentence of more than two years in a federal penitentiary.