Saturday, May 7, 2016 12:07:35 EDT PM
Derek Trepanier, of Sarnia, shows a school photo of himself during his time at the former Father Gerald LaBelle Catholic School in Corunna. The 34-year-old personal support worker has filed a $3-million lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of London, alleging he was sexually abused by Father Gary Roy. Barbara Simpson/Sarnia Observer/Postmedia Network
Inside a small-town confessional, Derek Trepanier said he was handed a secret he’d keep with him for close to 20 years.
That secret would quietly eat away at him, rob him of a chance to become a teacher, and poison his sleep with nightmares.
But for the life of him, Trepanier said he just couldn’t put his finger on what that secret exactly was until his son David was born in 2012.
“When my child was born, we had a conversation about sending him to church or Catholic school, and I was dead set against it,” the now 34-year-old Sarnia man recalled. “I was so intense with it and (my partner) Lori kept asking me, ‘What’s going on? I need to know what’s happening.’”
And that’s when he said the memories started to slowly flood back – months of sexual abuse and exploitation at the hands of Father Gary Roy during his time at St. Joseph’s parish and the former Father Gerald Labelle Catholic School in Corunna.
“I’m just starting to understand how it’s affected me, just starting to,” said Trepanier, now a personal supporter worker.
But his chance to finally hold Roy to account has slipped through his fingers.
The priest died in 2001, just years after he pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault involving other young men in the early 1980s.
He was sentenced to four months in jail and given three years’ probation.
Trepanier has now launched a $3-million lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of London in an effort to get some sense of justice for himself and his family.
He wants an acknowledgment from the diocese of what happened and what it knew about Roy’s history before he was stationed in Corunna.
“I feel like that opportunity for justice with him was stolen from me because he’s no longer here,” Trepanier said. “It’s with that in mind that I want to know who knew him before he came to Corunna, who put him in that role.”
In his lawsuit, Trepanier claims the diocese was negligent and put him at direct risk of being abused, in part because it failed to screen and monitor Roy’s character, sexual orientation and sexual activity.
The lawsuit also claims the diocese failed to remove Roy from his duties upon learning allegations of other sexual and inappropriate conduct.
In its statement of defence, the Diocese of London denies Trepanier’s allegations of sexual abuse, assault and exploitation at the hands of Roy.
The diocese also denies it breached its duties by acting in a negligent fashion with respect to protecting Trepanier.
“To me, (Roy’s behaviour) was culturally accepted in the church, and there were measures taken to sweep it under the mat,” Trepanier said.
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A God-fearing young boy, Trepanier first met Roy when he was transferred to the Corunna church in the spring of 1995.
Trepanier – then 13 – was taught to respect priests by his devout Catholic family.
Roy initially appeared to be a “nice guy,” Trepanier recalled, but soon his behaviour became sinister.
Trepanier got his first taste of Roy’s double life when he said the priest exposed himself and masturbated in front of him inside a confessional – one of the holiest places inside a Catholic church.
Trepanier said he was “pretty blindsided” by the incident, but Roy told him he’d be damned to hell if he told anyone.
“I believed him,” Trepanier said. “I believed when he told me that what happens in the confessional stays in the confessional, and that the only witness is him, myself and God, and that God would come to me if I did tell anybody and would snuff out my breath – those were the words that he used.”
Those words kept him largely quiet during months of abuse, he said, and that abuse came in the form of fondling, through to being required to suck Roy’s finger when receiving the Eucharist.
At one point, Trepanier said he told a teacher about Roy’s behaviour, but he later recanted his statement.
He remembers that teacher, who had initially dismissed his allegations, later approached him about his story a few days later.
“He must have had a change of heart, and he asked me, ‘Were you serious when you told me this because we’ll have to tell your parents, we’ll have to call the police, we’ll have to let people know,’ and I told him no,” Trepanier said.
“He then told me, ‘Don’t tell anyone I tried to help you.’”
After months of enduring abuse, Trepanier said he came to school one day to see Roy had disappeared.
He had been removed from both the church and the school because he was under investigation for sexual misconduct allegations at another parish.
Instead of relief, Trepanier felt a pang of guilt and responsibility for Roy being pulled out of the community.
“I thought I was a horrible, evil kid,” he recalled.
Over time, Trepanier said he managed to bury that dark chapter of his childhood, but it would only start to resurface again during teacher’s college.
He had been studying to be a religion and history teacher.
“When I was in the seminary, I saw (Roy’s) picture, and I started getting a weird feeling that I didn’t identify at first,” he said. “I just knew something was off, and that was towards the end of my university experience.”
He ended up quitting teacher’s college because he said he was overcome with depression – the source of which he still couldn’t pinpoint.
It wasn’t until more than a decade later when David – his son – came into the world that he said he could finally find his answer.
“I saw he was going through something that wasn’t just excitement of having a child,” recalled his partner Lori. “He was going through anxiety.”
With Lori’s support, Trepanier said he was able to start slowly recalling the traumatic events from his childhood.
“I was able to put the pieces together and when I approached (Lori), she said you need to go to the Sarnia Sexual Assault Survivors’ Crisis Centre, and I called them up and I’ve been seeing them for about a year now.”
* * * * *
For London lawyer Rob Talach, he has come to describe clergy sexual abuse cases as a “perfect crime” after assisting more than 100 victims over the last 13 years.
“It is such a perfect crime because it takes decades for the victims to finally have the strength to do it and to speak it out,” he said. “By that time, the suspect is dead or so elderly that our criminal justice system looks at them with a jaundiced eye and says, ‘OK, we’ll give them six months, we’ll give them house arrest. Why would we put such an old man in jail?’”
In Trepanier’s case, Talach said his client won’t even see a police investigation into his story because the alleged perpetrator is dead.
“Nobody’s got a job or a mandate to go find out what happened and get all these answers for Derek like he seeks or outreach for other victims – none of that,” he said. “That falls to the private sector and for people like Derek to spearhead it by hiring a lawyer and suing the diocese and all that institutional accountability is left to the individual players, which is just completely unacceptable.”
The Diocese of London declined to comment on Trepanier’s allegations due to the ongoing legal proceedings, but its spokesperson Emma Moynihan said the diocese is “committed to living up to our responsibilities and obligations to victims of sexual misconduct in the search for justice and truth.”
“We continue to work toward prevention of misconduct in the Catholic Church,” she wrote in an email. “We encourage anyone who may have been harmed to come forward.”
When asked if the diocese had reached out to other potential victims upon Roy’s 1998 convictions, Moynihan said the diocese reaches out to all places and parishes where the priest in question has served when a case of alleged misconduct comes forward.
But Trepanier said he isn’t relying on the church to get the word out about his allegations.
He decided to share his story in the hope of reaching other potential victims and letting them know it’s safe for them to come forward.
“I want to know if other kids, specifically in Corunna, had similar experiences with (Roy) because this guy, he was a monster and I can’t be the only one,” he said. “There’s no way I’m the only one he targeted.”
During his career in the priesthood, Roy served as chaplain of Sarnia’s former St. Patrick’s Catholic High School on East Street in the early 1980s. He also spent time with churches in Parkhill, in Kingsville and in Alberta.
A total of 26 Diocese of London priests have been identified as perpetrators over the years, according to Talach’s research.
The diocese declined to release the number of sexual misconduct cases it has handled because it’s still in the process of settling cases.
“The Diocese of London works to come to a reasonable settlement for all victims as quickly as possible,” Moynihan said in an email.
Over the last decade, Sarnia-Lambton has seen its fair share of Catholic sex abuse cases.
In 2006, Father Charles Sylvestre pleaded guilty to sexually abusing 47 young girls while serving at parishes in Sarnia, Chatham, Pain Court and Windsor between 1954 and 1986.
He died three months into his three-year jail sentence.
In 2014, Father Gabriele DelBianco was sentenced to four years in prison for sexual misconduct against two teenage girls in Lambton County in the 1980s.
DelBianco served in Wallaceburg and Windsor parishes before he left the priesthood in 1996.
Talach doesn’t anticipate he’ll see an end to Catholic sexual abuse victims coming forward.
“When I started out, we were dealing with people reporting crimes in the ’50s and ’60s,” he said. “Now we’re dealing with people in the ’70s and ’80s, and some pioneers – like Derek – are reporting abuse from the ’90s.”
Despite his experience with the Catholic church, Trepanier has surprisingly kept his faith in God.
“My faith in God led me to Lori, it led me to my son, and so (Roy) will never take that away from me,” he said.
He considers himself to be blessed with the support of his family and his counsellor at the Sarnia Sexual Assault Survivors’ Crisis Centre.
And now he hopes to help others who have yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel he’s found by coming forward.
“If just one person reads this and decides to talk with loved ones about something that happened to them that they’ve never talked about before or disclosed to anyone before, it’s worth it.”