Published On Thu Jun 3 2010
Jim Rankin Staff Reporter
Donald Grecco, a former priest from the Diocese of St. Catharines, runs from a Hamilton courthouse after his sentencing hearing Thursday. He has pleaded guilty to sexually molesting three former altar boys in the 1970s and ’80s.
HAMILTON—Mike Blum shook uncontrollably in the witness box, the childhood victim of an older man who sat stone-faced half a courtroom away. A man who in his prime was a priest with the Diocese of St. Catharines — and had a penchant for sexually assaulting altar boys.
Until Thursday, when a publication ban on his identity and that of another victim was lifted at their request, Blum, 46, had been one of three nameless former altar boys whom Donald Grecco, 70, molested in the 1970s and ’80s.
Blum’s shaking — he often has trouble holding a coffee — started after he came forward with his allegations. He cannot work and has tried to kill himself.
Reading out his victim impact statement, Blum held up a picture of himself as a teenaged boy.
“I want you to remember and look at that child,” he said, looking Grecco in the eye. “The child whose life you destroyed. The child you preyed on and who had a life of hopes and dreams waiting for him to fulfill. The child who had the right to live a life and grow to a man without the pain you inflicted . . . ”
Grecco, looking tanned and dressed in a dark suit, showed no emotion throughout the sentencing hearing, which included victim impact statements from his two other victims and their close family members. The victims were given copies of a hand-written apology from Grecco, which was not read out in court.
The mother of the victim who wished to remain unidentified told court she complained to the diocese in 1986 about Grecco’s behaviour, yet he remained an active priest for nearly two more decades.
Victim James Hennessy, who also asked for the publication ban on his name to be lifted, could not be in court, but Crown attorney Greg Smith read his words. Since coming forward, Hennessy’s life has deteriorated. Now 41, he is obsessed by the case, no longer enjoys his young children, and has seen a decline in income from his work in sales.
The sentencing hearing has been delayed for six weeks due to a medical test Grecco is to undergo, the outcome of which may change sentencing submissions made by his lawyer and the Crown attorney. Justice Kathryn Hawke agreed to the delay but insisted the victims have their say on Thursday. Grecco is scheduled to reappear on July 16.
The former priest pleaded guilty in March to sexually molesting the three former altar boys while a parish priest in Cayuga, and later in Welland. The incidents occurred between 1978 and 1986.
Blum complained to the diocese in 2005, but the court was told “nothing” came of it. The diocese properly followed protocols, Monsignor Dominic Pizzacalla told the Star last month.
Two weeks after Grecco’s guilty plea in March, St. Catharines Bishop James Wingle resigned, citing a lack of “stamina,” and hasn’t spoken publicly since. It remains unclear whether the Grecco case is in any way related to Wingle’s sudden departure.
Wingle was bishop in 2005, when Blum came forward. Another victim had complained to the diocese in 2001, just before Wingle was installed.
Blum went to police in 2008. Ontario Provincial Police arrested Grecco that year after a three-month investigation. At that point, he was no longer an active priest. A routine search warrant, executed on the diocese, uncovered the fact there had been an earlier victim. The third came forward after police issued a press release.
Grecco had been working recently as a grief counsellor and appears to have married.