Former altar boy sues ex priest

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02 November 2010 


WELLAND, ON — Donald Grecco tormented teenagers decades ago. Now, his former victims are haunting him.

James Hennessy, a former altar boy whom Grecco has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing in 1985, is launching a lawsuit against the ex-priest. 

The lawsuit is in the amount of $3 million, said lawyer Robert Talach, who is representing Hennessy. The Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Catharines is also named in the civil suit. 

The suit’s claims have not been proven in court. 

This latest development comes a month after Michael Blum, whom Grecco also admitted to molesting, launched a suit against the St. Catharines native, the diocese and former bishop James Wingle for the same amount. 

Hennessy, who was an altar boy at St. Kevin’s Church in Welland when he was abused by Grecco, decided about two weeks ago that he would sue. 

He believes legal action is the best way to force the Catholic Church to address the sex scandal. 

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said in a phone interview from England, where he now lives. 

Calls to the St. Catharines diocese and their legal representatives Sullivan Mahoney have not been returned. 

Grecco’s life has gone from bad to worse recently. In March, the former Roman Catholic priest admitted to molesting three teenaged altar boys in Welland and Cayuga. During the summer, doctors told him he has colon cancer and requires surgery. He also has arthritis, a sore back, hypertension and anxiety. 

He was arrested in early October for a breach of his residency requirements and has been in custody ever since. He can’t find surety and his marriage has fallen apart. He has no home, and is awaiting a sentencing hearing later this year for his criminal wrongdoings. 

During last Friday’s criminal court proceedings in Hamilton, the defence offered mitigating factors in an attempt to lessen the punishment Grecco may receive. Grecco’s lawyer Brian Donnelly said his client has shown remorse and has accepted responsibility for his actions. He also said the boys were teenagers, not children, when the abuse occurred and therefore had the ability to resist. There was no penetration or oral sex during the harassments, he said. And at the age of 70, Grecco is a low risk to re-offend, the defence attorney argued.

“What he fails to realize is that we have all had to relive what Grecco did to us in our original police statements and then again in our victim impact statements,” Hennessy said.

“Grecco is not the good guy, he is not the victim and he has not done any of the victims a favour. He (Donnelly) seems to have forgotten we actually endured the abuse that Grecco inflicted on us.

“I have to wonder if the defence has any idea what effect it has on a young person to have a person who he trusts, rub his penis across his face and mouth while talking about taking the penis into his mouth. I also wonder if the defence has any idea of the lasting issues that Grecco has left on his victims because of the repeated sexual abuse he inflicted on us,” he said.

Grecco was supposed to be sentenced on Oct. 29.

Instead, the defence gave its submissions. The Crown will have its turn for submissions on Nov. 26. Sentencing has been moved to Dec. 14 at the John Sopinka Courthouse in downtown Hamilton.

Sentencing has now been delayed three times in this case.

“I am shocked, appalled and disappointed in the Canadian legal system,” Hennessy said.

“This has been in court since September 2008 and the victims have had to endure delay after delay after delay. I can only sit, wait and wonder what the next excuse will be.”

Grecco — born in St. Catharines and raised in — was ordained in 1966. He served as a pastor at St. Mary’s and St. Kevin’s in Welland, St. George’s in Crystal Beach, St. Alexander in Fonthill, St. Vincent de Paul in Niagara-on-the-Lake, St. Thomas More in Niagara Falls and St. Stephen’s in Cayuga.

In 2000, he was laicized and officially left the priesthood. He was married in 2002. Grecco worked as a marriage and grief counsellor until 2008 when he retired.

The convicted molester has a bail hearing this morning in Picton.

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