The Dunville Chronicle
Thursday, May 17, 2012 7:28:24 EDT AM
ST. CATHARINES – While former Roman Catholic priest Donald Grecco was convicted of child molestation in 2010, a multimillion-dollar civil suit launched by three of his victims it still making its way through the courts.
In March 2010, Grecco pleaded guilty to three counts of gross indecency after he sexually abused three teenaged altar boys in the 1970s and parts of the 1980s in Welland and Cayuga.
In December of the same year, he was sentenced to 18 months behind bars and two years probation.
He has since been released.
Prior to Grecco’s conviction, civil lawsuits were launched by three of his victims — Dunnville’s Michael Blum, former Welland resident James Hennessy, and a third person who cannot be identified due to a publication ban imposed by the courts. Each lawsuit is in the amount of roughly $3 million.
According to attorney Robert Talach, who represents all three of Grecco’s victims, Blum’s lawsuit has made the most headway in the legal system thus far.
Blum is seeking about $3 million, which includes $300,000 for pain and suffering, $100,000 for special damages and $50,000 for mental distress.
The suit names not only Grecco, but also the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Catharines as defendants.
Grecco previously served as a pastor at St. Mary and St. Kevin churches in Welland, St. Alexander in Fonthill, St. George in Crystal Beach, St. Thomas More in Niagara Falls, St. Vincent de Paul in Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Stephen in Cayuga.
Thus far in Blum’s case, the diocese has been examined and it is anticipated Grecco will also be examined sometime this summer.
“I’d like to sit Grecco down and have him speak for himself,” Talach said in a phone interview.
Exactly where and when Grecco will be examined has yet to be scheduled.
Though the case is filed in St. Catharines, Grecco has the opportunity to choose which jurisdiction is most convenient for him to be examined in, Talach said.
The statement of claim, filed in the Superior Court of Justice in St. Catharines, alleges Grecco used his position as a parish priest, a position of authority and trust, to develop a close personal relationship with Blum.
That relationship, the document states, allowed Grecco an opportunity to be alone with Blum and to “exert total control over him, prey upon him and sexually abuse him.”
It alleges that in 1978 when Blum was 14 years old, and on several occasions in the following 18 months, Grecco repeatedly sexually abused, assaulted and molested Blum in the church rectory.
In Grecco’s statement of defence, he admits that encounters with Blum involving “a sexual component” took place on 12 occasions in the late 1970s, but he also states that allegations contained in the statement of claim are “exaggerated to a substantial degree.”
In the document, Grecco denies that Blum has suffered the damages “as alleged or at all.”
“If the plaintiff has suffered any damages as alleged or at all … those damages are excessive, exaggerated and remote and the result of the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate his alleged damages by seeking appropriate and necessary treatment in a reasonable and timely manner,” the document says.
It also states any damages suffered were caused by pre-existing psychological, mental or physical conditions, as well as subsequent events in the plaintiff’s life or lifestyle choices — both unrelated to the allegations made in the statement of claim.
The statement of claim alleges it was the rules, principles and ideologies of the St. Catharines diocese that created an opportunity for Grecco to exert power and authority over Blum.
It was Grecco’s position with the diocese that allowed him access to the rectory, where the abuse took place, and access to the plaintiff.
The document alleges the diocese was negligent and failed in its duty to the plaintiff for several reasons, including failing to remove Grecco from his duties upon learning of the allegations of sexual and other inappropriate conduct, leaving Blum exposed to Grecco and his actions without protection; once fully aware of Grecco’s “shortcomings,” failing to take steps to investigate his activities in an effort to locate and assist any victims; and failing to identify, counsel and assist Blum once the diocese learned of Grecco’s prior behaviour.
In its statement of defence, the St. Catharines diocese “denies each and every allegation contained in the statement of claim.” It particularly denies Blum is entitled to the relief sought in the statement of claim.
The diocese claims to have “satisfied any and all obligations and/or duties that it may have owed to the plaintiff,” the statement of defence reads.
With the alleged abuse said to have began in 1978 and continued for the following 18 months, the action is “out-of-time and statute-barred by the provisions of the Limitations Act,” it adds.
The statement of claim and the statements of defence have not been proven in court.
Attempts by to reach the last documented defence counsel for the diocese for comment were unsuccessful.
When the lawsuit was initially filed, former head of the diocese, Bishop James Wingle, was also named in the lawsuit.
He has since been dropped from Blum’s case.
“It’s because we couldn’t find him,” Talach said of Wingle’s dismissal from the case. “That’s the part that disgusts me.”
Wingle resigned from his position as bishop by letter on April 7, 2010.
He has not been heard from publicly since and his whereabouts remain unknown.
In the resignation letter, Wingle said he no longer had the stamina required to be the bishop of a diocese, asked for understanding of his shortcomings and said he is taking a sabbatical focused on “prayer and personal renewal.”
That same day, Pope Benedict XVI accepted Wingle’s resignation due to unknown health issues. It is not known if Wingle’s resignation was related in any way to the Grecco case.
Talach has sent several requests to the diocese asking for reference of Wingle’s whereabouts, but “they’ve been unable to assist us,” he said.
Talach said he views the diocese as being a corporation and to “conceal an ex-CEO is not acceptable.”
Wingle should be receiving a pension from the diocese, he added, so the cheques must be reaching him somehow.
With Wingle’s longtime involvement in the area, Talach called it unlikely he would drop all social contact with the diocese and other local members of the church.
The current head of the diocese, Bishop Gerard Bergie, has previously said he’s had “brief contact” with the former bishop, though it’s not known in what form this communication took place or what it consisted of. In Blum’s case, six months was allotted to serve Wingle and when he could not be found, the decision was made to drop him from the case in order to avoid further delay in the legal process.
There has yet to be any movement in the civil suit filed by James Hennessy, a former Welland resident now living in England. Details are still being sorted out as to what work can be completed on the case before Hennessy must travel back to Canada, Talach said.
The third victim, whose name has not been released due to a publication ban, has launched a suit against Grecco, Wingle, the diocese, and John O’Mara, the bishop who preceded Wingle at the diocese.
Wingle has yet to be served.
“We are looking for Bishop Wingle, but he’s gone completely AWOL (absent without leave),” Talach said.
“No one in the diocese can locate him.”