Sex abuse cases haunt church’s London diocese
When the terrified teen finally mustered enough courage to report the ongoing sexual abuse Father Barry inflicted on him, the priest he confided in shut the door in his face, flicked off the porch light and left him standing in darkness.
It had taken 15-year-old Richard Corbett a year to finally find the strength to tell his mom about what Windsor priest Barry Glendinning was doing to him. She dragged him down to the rectory.
“She was awful mad,” Corbett said during questioning for his civil lawsuit, which was launched four decades after the abuse. “We talked to Father Nouvion and basically he told us just to go home and pray. He turned the porch light off. Shut the door.”
Corbett was likely the first victim of pedophile priest Barry Glendinning to come forward and report his abuse to the church. The diocese shuffled the priest out of town and set him up at a new church. That was 1965.
Glendinning would spend the next few decades abusing children from London to Edmonton, as diocese officials quickly and quietly shuffled him out of town each time there was a complaint.
It was a pattern repeated with other priests that would lead to dozens of lawsuits and victims, lawyers and judges accusing the diocese of coverups and “wilful blindness.”
Glendinning is one of at least 22 priests in the London diocese who have been convicted, charged or sued for sex crimes against children.
Rev. Gabriele Del Bianco was a young, charismatic priest who hid a dark side. See Father’s Girls in Saturday’s Star.
Experts and abuse survivors say because pedophiles often prey on multiple children, the number of victims is likely much higher, possibly in the hundreds.
“For all the victims who do come forward, so many others remain shrouded in silence and/or guilt and shame,” said Irene Deschenes, one of the first victims to accuse Rev. Charles Sylvestre, the notorious Windsor priest who assaulted dozens of children over four decades and sparked a major overhaul of the diocese’s approach to sexual abuse.
“Very rarely does one predator have only one victim,” said Deschenes. “That the diocese of London has had 22 priests convicted, charged or sued for abusing children means there are hundreds of hurting and lost souls out there and countless others experiencing that pain today.”
Three London diocese clergymen have been kicked out of the priesthood for sex abuse crimes – a move previously unheard of in Canada.
Bishop Ronald Fabbro said the laicizations, the church’s formal term for defrocking, which must be approved by the Vatican, have become a central part of widespread change at the diocese which includes replacing the sex abuse policy that came out in 1989.
One change the diocese has made is to believe victims when they come forward, which Fabbro admits was “a problem in the past.”
Glendinning was ordained May 21, 1964, and sent the following month to Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Windsor. He befriended Corbett, a young member of the flock, and groomed him for sexual abuse while counselling him through the death of his dad.
Glendinning liked to befriend families with widowed mothers or those with lots of boys. When police arrested him at the London seminary in 1974 and searched his room, they found more than 250 colour photographs of 30 different young boys, undressed and engaged in various sex acts. According to court documents, they also seized a pellet gun and artificial breasts.
In 1974, Glendinning was convicted of six counts of gross indecency against five boys and one girl. His punishment was three years probation. The probation order, dated May 14, 1974, stated he was not allowed to work with children.
But the order was too little too late for brothers John, Guy and Ed Swales, who met Glendinning in 1969 at a camp for underpriviledged children.
The Swales family struggled with money. They fell behind paying the bills. There was no money for movies or vacations.
Glendinning filled in the gaps. He bought the kids pizza and took them to the movies. They went fishing and camping. Often, the trips were overnight.
“One of my younger brothers is named after him,” said John Swales, now 52. “He used to come to our house for dinner. He was a constant person in our lives.”
Over the next four years, Glendinning became like an older brother to John. He taught the boys about life and counselled them with their troubles.
He also introduced them to tobacco and alcohol and subjected them to relentless sexual abuse.
It was at the seminary and on camping trips that – as a London judge would later put it – Glendinning schooled the boys in “sexual perversion.”
Each visit to his apartment, every camping trip, meant more sexual degradation for the troubled boys at the hands of their trusted priest. Even a complaint from their sister Melody, who witnessed some of the abuse, didn’t stop it.
The confused girl told Rev. Hunter, a priest at her school, what she saw.
He was furious – at her. “He said ‘that never happened, that was a lie and I don’t want to hear you talk about that,'” Melody recalled.
The Swales brothers weren’t the only victims.
“It is undisputed that Glendinning was and is a pedophile, and was, at least between 1969 and 1974, a very promiscuous one,” Superior Court Justice. J. G. Kerr wrote in 2004 in a $1.4-million judgment against the London diocese.
A victim, referred to as T.L. in court documents, said Glendinning abused him between 1967 and 1969. It was similar to that endured by the Swales brothers.
He swore during the Swales civil trial that he was regularly seen by other residents at the seminary, and was asked by one of them to keep quiet.
Another victim also swore he was repeatedly brought to Glendinning’s room for overnight stays and sexual abuse between 1969 and 1971. He said the priest never tried to conceal his presence, even though it was against the rules for children to stay at the seminary.
Kerr came to the “inescapable conclusion” that the diocese “encouraged secrecy, if not wilful blindness on the part of its priests with respect to sexual deviance.
“It was an environment in which one heard no evil, saw no evil and spoke no evil,” he wrote. “The diocese thus created and nurtured an environment in which Glendinning was free to carry on his sexual predation without fear of discovery.”
Glendinning, who is retired in Toronto, was transferred at least a dozen times during his career.
A safe environment policy for the diocese of London and the code of conduct for priests – which among other things directs priests to avoid one-onone meetings with minors – was published in 2008.
“I think it’s accurate to say we did it because of the Father Sylvestre thing,” Fabbro said.
“We knew that we had to do something. Our policy going back to 1989 needed to be reviewed in any case, and this was the reason I think that we did so.”
Sylvestre was convicted in 2006 of 47 counts of indecent assault on girls over four decades. Dozens more victims have since come forward. He died in prison in 2007 at age 84.
Canon law makes it impossible to defrock a dead man, so he remains a priest in the history books.
Rev. John Sharp, vicar-general of the diocese, said the diocese has faced more than 100 sex abuse lawsuits. Sylvestre victims alone have launched 78 cases. At last count, 71 of those had been settled.
Sharp said he didn’t know what all the lawsuits have cost the diocese.
“We actually haven’t come to the point of calculating that,” said Sharp. “We’re still in the midst of doing it. We still have a number of lawsuits to settle.”
He said the church has insurance, but it doesn’t cover everything. The diocese has had to make up the difference.
“It’s had a profound effect on us in the sense that we’ve had to sell a number of our assets and properties,” said Sharp. “Obviously those moneys are moneys that could not have been used for development of various other pastoral ministries and programs.”
Sharp said the diocese has sold a number of “excess properties,” including the bishop’s cottage and the bishop’s residence, but no churches.
London lawyer Rob Talach with the firm Ledroit Beckett, which launched the bulk of those lawsuits and tallied the number of priests accused or convicted of sex abuse, said he was astounded by the number.
“It’s important to note it’s 22 known priests. How many slip under the radar? How many are never known? How many are active right now?”
More dismaying, he said, is the potential number of victims.
“Sylvestre is pushing 100,” said Talach. “So when you take 22 perpetrators – especially considering how the diocese typically dealt with these guys by moving them to a fresh crop every time they got caught – the numbers here could be crazy.
“It’s clear the victim count from this problem in this diocese is in the hundreds.”
Twenty-two London diocese priests have been convicted, charged or sued for sexual abuse:
1. Rev. Barry Glendinning. In May 1974 Glendinning pleaded guilty to six counts of gross indecency involving children. He was given a suspended sentence and three years probation. He was also sued in 2006 for abuse at Our Lady of Guadalope parish in Windsor.
2. Rev. Robert Morrissey. In February 1993 he was sentenced to 18 months probation for attempted buggery, indecent assault and assault.
3. Rev. Michael Francis White. In January 1994 he pleaded guilty to one count of indecent assault against a young girl. He was given 18 months probation.
4. Rev. Gary Roy. In February 1998 he pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault against boys. He was sentenced to four months in jail.
5. Rev. John Stock. He pleaded guilty in January 1999 to gross indecency against a young boy and was sentenced to 12 months.
6. Rev. Cameron MacLean. In February 2001 he was sentenced to two years less a day after pleading guilty to indecent assault and sexual assault of young boys. In 2002 he pleaded guilty to nine charges of sexual assault for abusing eight boys, three in Windsor, in the 1970s and 1980s.
7. Rev. Thomas Cromien. In June 2001 he pleaded guilty to indecent assault of a teenage boy. He was sentenced to two years less a day.
8. Rev. Richard Boll. He was sentenced to two years in prison in November 2001 after pleading guilty to gross indecency, indecent assault and sexual assault against boys. At the time of his arrest, Boll was the bishop’s adviser on canon law.
9. Rev. John Harper got three years probation in March 2003 after he pleaded guilty to indecent assault involving minors in Windsor in the 1960s.
10. Rev. Konstanty ‘Konnie’ Przybylski. On July 4, 2006, he was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual assault and sexual exploitation of two teenage boys in the Port Dover area.
11. Rev. Charles Sylvestre. (Deceased) He pleaded guilty on Aug. 3, 2006, to 47 counts of indecent assault and was sentenced in October to three years in prison. The majority of his crimes took place in Chatham while he was pastor of St. Ursula’s parish.
12. Rev. Godwin Scerri. In April 2010, the OPP resurrected the case against Scerri who was charged in June 1993 for sexually abusing minors between 1983 and 1987 when he served at St. William’s Church in Emeryville. He fled to his native Malta. The search warrant remains open in Canada.
13. Rev. Leo Charron. The retired Belle River priest pleaded guilty in September 1993 to indecent assault and gross indecency against a boy who was 12 when the abuse began. Charron was pastor of St. Jerome’s Church in Windsor.
14. Rev. John Duarte. The former head of a Haitian mission pleaded guilty in April 2010 to sexual abusing adolescent boys there. He was sentenced to up to eight months in prison. During the 1990s Duarte served as a parish priest in Windsor and Essex County.
15. Rev. Laurent C. Paquette. (Deceased) Lawsuit issued in January 2008 alleges sexual abuse was perpetrated while Paquette was a priest at St. Gregory Parish and chaplain at St. Gregory School in St. Clair Beach.
16. Rev. William Ring (Deceased). Lawsuit issued in November 2006 alleging sexual abuse while Ring was a priest at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Thamesville.
17. Rev. William Hodgson ‘Hod’ Marshall. On June 10, Marshall was led away in handcuffs to begin serving a two-year sentence stemming from abuse of students in all-male Catholic high schools in Windsor, Sudbury and Toronto from 1952 to 1985.
18. Rev. Douglas Mercer. A lawsuit was filed in November 2009 alleging sexual abuse while Mercer was a priest at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Windsor.
19. Rev. Michael Fallona. A lawsuit was filed in November 2009 alleging sexual abuse in the summer of 1977 while Fallona was a priest at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Windsor.
20. Rev. Bernard Alphonse Robert. A lawsuit is pending regarding allegations of sexual abuse in the 1970s while Robert was a priest of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Tilbury.
21. Rev. Piotr Sanczenko. Is charged with sexual assault involving two victims at Our Lady of Victory Church in Chatham from 1963 to 1973. The case is pending.
22. Rev. Gabriele Del Bianco is charged criminally with sexual assault. His criminal prosecution is ongoing. He has also been sued by 10 alleged victims of sex abuse. The majority of his parish work was in Wallaceburg and Windsor.