The wolf in priest’s clothing

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Grecco sentencing delayed

St. Catharine’s Standard

Thursday, September 7, 2017 8:37:57 EDT PM

  By Grant LaFleche, The Standard

Former priest Donald Grecco, right, arrives at the St. Catharines Court House for his sentencing on Thursday, with a friend. In the background, William O'Sullivan - one of Grecco's victims - tills his head and watches. September 7, 2017. Julie Jocsak/ St. Catharines Standard/ Postmedia Network

Former priest Donald Grecco, right, arrives at the St. Catharines Court House for his sentencing on Thursday, with a friend. In the background, William O’Sullivan – one of Grecco’s victims – tills his head and watches. September 7, 2017. Julie Jocsak/ St. Catharines Standard/ Postmedia Network

Convicted sexual predator and ex-Catholic priest Donald Grecco remains a free man, at least for the next seven weeks.

After an emotional, daylong sentencing hearing in St. Catharines, Justice Joseph Nadel decided to defer his final verdict on Grecco — who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing three boys in the 1970s and ’80s — until Oct. 24 so the 77-year-old man can get a colonoscopy.

Nevertheless, Nadel made it clear that Grecco is going to prison and said the former priest “deformed” the lives of his victims through the “grossest form of breach of trust.”

The judge said Grecco turned the parishes he was in charge of into “cesspools of abuse.”

“Today’s headline in the St. Catharines Standard calling you a ‘wolf in priest’s clothing’ is a witty and apt description of your behaviour,” Nadel told Grecco, referring The Standard’s ongoing special report on clergy abuse. “You were supposed to shepherd these boys. Instead, you preyed on them.”

Grecco made a short statement of apology to his victims and the community, calling himself a “fraud” who took advantage of the boys who looked to him for guidance and comfort.

“You came looking for goodness, as you should. What did you get from me? You got evil,” he said, looking across the court directly at one his victims, William O’Sullivan of St. Catharines. “I am truly sorry.”

After the hearing, O’Sullivan said he did not believe Grecco’s apology was sincere, but he needed to hear it nevertheless.

“Even if he didn’t mean it, even if it wasn’t from the heart, it was something I have needed to hear for a long time,” O’Sullivan said.

In May, Grecco pleaded guilty to three counts of gross indecency for the sexual abuse of three boys from 1975 to 1982. Two of the victims — who cannot be named under a court ordered publication ban — were assaulted by Grecco in Niagara Falls. They were both abused at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, and one of them was also assaulted in churches in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Pelham.

The third victim, O’Sullivan, was assaulted in St. Kevin’s church in Welland.

“I turned to you for guidance, and I all I got was evil,” O’Sullivan said in a victim impact statement read to the court.

Grecco — sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2010 for sexually abusing three other boys in the 1970s and ’80s — fondled the boys, masturbated them, made them masturbate him and, in the case of one boy, fellated his victim.

Nadel said while there are no allegations of sodomy or threats of physical violence, Grecco used “psychological violence” to manipulate his victims.

This was particularly true in the case of O’Sullivan, abused by Grecco from the ages of nine to 12. O’Sullivan’s mother was a deeply devout Catholic. Grecco told O’Sullivan his mother would have to leave the church and “her smile would go away” if O’Sullivan told anyone the truth.

“I kept our little secret to protect my mother,” O’Sullivan said from the witness stand, staring directly at Grecco, who sat beside his lawyer with his fingers laced under his chin.

O’Sullivan said his mother’s life revolved around St. Kevin’s church. She was a member of the church’s women’s league and kept her devotional bible open on the kitchen table every day. He wanted the abuse to stop but feared his mother would be kicked out of the church if he spoke up.

One of the other victims said the trauma caused by Grecco’s repeated abuse triggered years of psychological problems, including addiction issues.

His victim impact statement, read into the record by assistant Crown attorney Pat Vadacchino while he stood beside her, said the abuse created deep trust issues. It has also made him deeply homophobic, which he acknowledged is wrong but hasn’t learned to get past.

The third victim’s impact statement was filed as an exhibit but not read aloud in court.

Vadacchino told Nadel that Grecco displays the hallmarks of a systematic sexual predator. She said he had a “modus operandi, a pattern of behaviour,” that extended for more than a decade.

She pointed out that most of his victims were altar boys and Grecco deliberately inserted himself into their family lives. Only O’Sullivan was not an altar boy, but his mother often had him stay after mass to help Grecco around the church.

Vadacchino also pointed out that Grecco’s victims are still recovering from the trauma they suffered as boys. They have all had troubled relationships, trust issues and even engaged in criminal behaviour.

Grecco’s abuse robbed all three men of their potential, she said.

Moreover, while she said Grecco has the right to remain silent and is under no legal obligation to incriminate himself, he chose not to disclose to the court he had abused other boys at the time of his conviction in 2010.

“He had the opportunity at that time to say, ‘I’m sorry, but I have also abused other boys,’” Vadacchino said, noting there is a possibility there are still other victims out there who have yet to come forward.

Grecco’s lawyer, Robert Yanch, also said there may still be more victims out there. However, by not disclosing in 2010 that he had abused more boys, Grecco permitted this group of three men to come forward on their own.

“He didn’t force them into the light. They came forward when they were ready to,” said Yanch.

While Vadacchino asked Nadel to sentence Grecco to three years in prison, Yanch said a penalty of 18 months is more appropriate because sodomy was not alleged.

Yanch’s argument was more than O’Sullivan could handle.

“I can’t listen to any more of this f—ing s—,” he shouted and stormed out of the courtroom. A police officer and court support worker followed him out and brought him back to the courtroom after he had calmed down.

O’Sullivan, who apologized to Nadel for his outburst at the end of the hearing, said he felt like Yanch was dismissing the anguish of Grecco’s victims.

“He is basically saying this guy should not face more prison time just because we weren’t sodomized? Come on, man. That’s not right,” he said outside the courthouse after the hearing.

Yanch said that Grecco is in poor health. He was being treated for colon cancer at the time of his 2010 conviction and contracted the C. difficile bacteria. The infection lasted for the entirety of his 18-month prison stay, and has resulted in Grecco being permanently incontinent.

Grecco’s cancer is in remission, Yanch said, but has a colonoscopy scheduled for early October and asked Nadel to stay his final decision until after that procedure, a request Nadel granted.

Yanch said Grecco was ordained in 1966 and left the priesthood in 2005.

Grecco opened a business as a counsellor, got married and became close to his wife’s daughter and son. His wife left him in 2010, and his stepdaughter cut off all contact. Yanch said the woman’s son died by suicide after Grecco’s 2010 conviction.

Although he is reserving his decision until October, Nadel made it clear that Grecco will be going to prison and said the former priest is healthy enough for incarceration.

In his apology Grecco labelled himself as a “fraud” during the period he was abusing boys.

“You are still a fraud,” Nadel said, pointing out that in a pre-sentence interview Grecco said his crimes were the result of an “adolescent mind.” The judge said this is Grecco’s way of trying to avoid responsibility for the harm he caused.

“Stephen King said when it comes to the past we are all writing fiction, and that is what you are doing,” Nadel said. “Shame on you.”

Nadel said the maximum penalty he can impose by law is five years in prison for the crimes Grecco pleaded guilty to.

Grecco remains free until the next hearing in St. Catharines on Oct. 24.

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