Clues in the mystery of Bishop James Wingle

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The Toronto Star

Published on Friday January 11, 2013

Jim Rankin
Staff Reporter

WingleServed_2

Provided by Rob Talach A private investigator’s pictures show former St. Catharines Bishop James Wingle being served with notice of a lawsuit in April 2012 outside a Montreal church.

As the wheels of justice slowly turn in sex abuse lawsuits against a former St. Catharines Catholic priest and the diocese, the whereabouts of a retired bishop named in one of the suits remain a public mystery.

Not that Bishop James Wingle has vanished from the face of the Earth.

But it took private investigators to find him, briefly.

Wingle, whose sudden resignation nearly three years ago stunned the St. Catharines diocese, was served in April 2012 — outside a Montreal church — with notice of a lawsuit filed by an unnamed former altar boy. The altar boy was one of three to sue over abuse at the hands of ex-priest Donald Grecco.

Private investigators hired by Rob Talach, a lawyer representing Grecco’s victims, did not manage to figure out where Wingle was living, but they did correctly determine that he would show up for a church service. With a hidden camera firing away, the bishop emeritus of St. Catharines was served just outside the church. He appears fit and in a good mood in the photos.

“We really don’t know where he lives,” said Talach. “We used both a private investigation service and a process server who does a little bit of tracking and they both came up with this, that he would be attending a particular religious event in Montreal.

“It was kind of tricky because in Quebec you cannot serve on a holiday and you cannot serve on a religious property so we had to catch him on the street on his way there.”

There was evidence that he’d been to other very public Catholic events in Montreal, said Talach. “He wasn’t hiding; he was just staying off the radar.”

Wingle resigned April 7, 2010, two weeks after Grecco pleaded guilty to sexually abusing three former altar boys during the ’70s and ’80s in Cayuga and Welland.

Grecco, sentenced to 18 months, was released in late 2011.

In his resignation letter, Wingle referred to unspecified “shortcomings” and said he was going on a sabbatical “centered on prayer and personal renewal.”

He then disappeared. Top officials with the diocese said even they had no idea where he was. In August 2010, a letter from Wingle saying he was on sabbatical in Israel was shared with local parishes.

Wingle became St. Catharines bishop in 2002. Complaints of Grecco’s abuse were made before and during his tenure.

It remains unclear whether the resignation had anything to do with Grecco, who comes from a family of priests. His brother Richard is Charlottetown’s bishop.

“I’m in limbo,” said Mike Blum, 48, one of three former altar boys abused by Grecco. Blum’s lawsuit does not name Wingle, who could not be located to be served within time limitations and was left out of the named defendants.

“We had a mediation date set for the end of the month (January) and it was changed to end of May,” said Blum, who had a publication ban on his name lifted. He was left so damaged by the abuse and criminal case that he cannot work and is on permanent disability.

“It’s tough. It’s been hard on the entire family and we want to move on,” said Blum, who was abused by Grecco in Cayuga in the late ’70s.

In a suit filed by former altar boy James Hennessy, who also had the ban on his name lifted, there has been an undisclosed settlement.

A third suit filed by a former altar boy, known by the initials T.A.M., was served on both Grecco and Wingle and also names Bishop Emeritus John O’Mara, Wingle’s predecessor. The suit remains open.

The suits allege negligence on the part of the former bishops and diocese. Complaints about Grecco were brought to the attention of church higher-ups over the years but little or nothing was done, the suits allege.

Talach said the St. Catharines diocese was not helpful in tracking down Wingle.

Wingle and O’Mara have yet to be examined.

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