Jail abusive priest: Victim

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Donald Grecco, a former priest from the Diocese of St. Catharines, runs from a Hamilton court house in June.
GRECCO Donald Grecco, a former priest from the Diocese of St. Catharines, runs from a Hamilton court house in June.
Jim Rankin/Torstar News Service
                   

Hamilton Spectator

29 October 2010

James Hennessy says there are more.

Former Roman Catholic priest Donald Grecco is to be sentenced Friday for sexually abusing three former southern Ontario altar boys — including Hennessy — during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The abuse occurred at parishes in Cayuga, Welland and Fonthill.

Grecco, 70, pleaded guilty last March to three counts of gross indecency.

But Hennessy, who was abused as an altar boy at St. Kevin’s Roman Catholic Church in Welland in 1985, believes Grecco’s victim total is higher.

“I know for a fact there is one more victim out there,” Hennessy told The Spectator in a recent telephone interview from England, where he now lives.

“The person knows about the court case. The person chose for his own personal reasons not to come forward,” Hennessy, 41, said, adding the other victim told him personally about the abuse.

It’s the very real possibility of other victims that has motivated two of the victims, Mike Blum of Dunnville and Hennessy, to ask that a court-ordered publication ban protecting their identities be lifted.

Blum, who was a 15-year-old altar boy at St. Stephen in Cayuga, was sexually abused by Grecco in 1978. Blum has launched a $3-million lawsuit against the former priest, the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Catharines and former Bishop James Wingle.

A third victim, who also came forward to the police, remains shielded by the publication ban.

“I know there are more out there. I couldn’t even try and put a number on it,” Hennessy said, adding he would hope that there are no more than four victims. “But if I had to put my hand to my heart, I would have to say there are more out there and hopefully they have the courage, not necessarily to come forward, but the courage to deal with it,” he said.

Hennessy, like the other victims, had suppressed the memories of the abuse. For the past eight years, he had been living a quiet life as an elevator/escalator salesman in Rossett, a village of 4,000 about 45 minutes northwest of Manchester in the northwest part of England. He had been a happy, outgoing father of three young sons, married about six years to wife Catherine.

That was until his stepfather sent him a newspaper clipping in September 2008 detailing the arrest of a family friend who had been very close to his mother. Don Grecco.

Hennessy remembers receiving the clipping in September 2008 and an extraordinary conversation he had with his wife shortly after reading the account of Grecco’s arrest and charges. The clipping said anyone with information should contact the OPP.

Before that night, his wife and the mother of his three sons, aged 3, 5, and 7 had no idea what happened to her husband when he was just 15 and growing up in Welland.

“The night the clipping arrived I said to my wife, ‘I know for a fact that this (crime) happened.’ And she said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said ‘It happened to me.’ She actually got quite upset and said ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ And I just simply said, ‘Well, it’s not something that comes up in conversation, is it? Like, ‘It’s a real sunny day isn’t it? And oh, by the way, I was sexually abused as a child,’” Hennessy said.

But Hennessy, Blum and the other victim found they would pay a horrific price since coming forward. The memories have left all three men, all in their early 40s, just hollow shells of who they used to be.

All three have become withdrawn, depressed, angry. They suffer insomnia. They’re loners. They live painful lives.

“You were a predator who enjoyed the cloak of the church and you preyed on the very innocence you swore to protect,” Blum said of Grecco in his victim impact statement.

“I have lived and relived every terrible thing you did to me, every day and every night. I have no rest from you, no escape. You consume my thoughts every day and you haunt my nightmares every night.”

The abuse followed a similar pattern. Grecco would befriend the victim’s families. He would employ the youths to do odd jobs or take them on trips. Once alone with the teens, Grecco would initiate play fights that would escalate into the abuser performing a “humping motion” on his victims before ejaculating.

“I came forward to make sure justice was done,” Hennessy said of his decision to contact the authorities. “I didn’t realize what I was in for.

“Before I had shut this away in my memory and never ever thought of it.”

But those days are gone, at least for now.

Hennessy said Crown counsel Gregory Smith, who is based in the Crown’s Cayuga office and is prosecuting the case, has asked each of the three victims for their thoughts on the sentencing for Grecco, who is in ill health. Hennessy wants the predator to serve time.

“I personally want to see a minimum of two years,” he said. “I think he deserves to do time for what he did.”

Hennessy hasn’t attended the court sessions because of the cost. But he has given some thought about what he would say to the man who turned his life into a living hell. It’s encapsulated in a single word.

“Just Why? Why did you do it? Why didn’t you think about what it would do to the three or four of us or how many out there that are still hiding?”

The emotional turmoil aside, Hennessy’s faith has been shaken. Just one of his three sons has been baptized.

A Roman Catholic all his life, Hennessy attends church sporadically these days, perhaps just on Christmas and Easter. It’s all he can muster.

Hennessy does have one hope for the future. He hopes to be able to return to the happy, outgoing, personable man he was once.

“I don’t think I will ever forget it. I don’t think I will ever be OK with it. But I think I will learn to live with it as part of my life,” he said.

kpeters@thespec.com

905-526-3388

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