The National Post
Mar 8, 2012 – 8:20 PM ET
Idrissa Diakite/Journal L’Étoile
The Père-Camille-Léger Aréna, named after the priest who served in the Ste Therese d’Avila Roman Catholic parish in Cap-Pelé from 1957-1980.
Cindy Blanchette was a little girl when she attended a ceremony renaming the local arena in Cap-Pelé, N.B., after a prominent local priest. An image of the elderly man of honour, Father Camille Léger — his legs amputated due to gangrene — is burned in her memory, as are the whispers of whether he deserved the honour.
“I remember saying, ‘Look at him, doing great things for the community,’” said Ms. Blanchette, a lifelong resident of the Acadian fishing village. “And I remember my Dad saying, ‘He’s not such a great man for what he did to those kids.’”
Léger, who served in the Ste Therese d’Avila Roman Catholic parish in Cap-Pelé from 1957-1980, has been dead for over 20 years. But the muted rumours of sexual abuse became very public this week after the village council announced it will hold a plebiscite during the May 14 municipal election about whether to change the arena’s name from Aréna Père-Camille-Léger to Aréna de Cap-Pelé.
A committee made up of Knights of Columbus and current parishioners at the Catholic church came to council recently and asked Léger’s name be removed over allegations of child abuse, said deputy mayor Hector Doiron.
“We did not want to do the name change in a secretive manner,” he said, and so council decided they should hold a vote. One councillor objected to the plebiscite on very personal grounds: Norbert Gaudet said he had been sexually abused by Léger when he was 13.
Idrissa Diakite/Journal L’Étoile
Councillor Norbert Gaudet: “I did what I had to do and now I’m going to try to move on.”
“I did what I had to do and now I’m going to try to move on,” said Mr. Gaudet, who said he would have rather not come forward with his story of abuse. But now that it’s out there, he feels it could support the move to have the name changed back to Aréna de Cap-Pelé — what it was called before the council of the day renamed it in honour of Léger.
He’s heard from “dozens” of others who have their own stories of sex abuse at the hands of Léger, but are not in a position to go public.
“I’m sure I don’t have enough fingers and toes on my body to count them all.”
It’s been painful to walk into the Aréna Père-Camille-Léger to attend his grandson’s hockey games and see a photo of the priest in the trophy case, Mr. Gaudet said. (The photo was removed this week).
Léger’s name is on the arena in the first place because he helped ensure it was built, said Mr. Doiron. He also helped build the new church.
The priest was active as a coach and manager with the Cap-Pelé Fishermen, a defunct junior hockey team that used to beat competitors from Fredericton and Saint John in the 1970s and ’80s.
“He had a lot of influence, a lot of power and in those days the Catholic church was the main powerhouse in local areas,” Mr. Doiron said.
But not everyone in the village wants to erase the name of a prominent citizen, he added. It was important to hold a plebiscite because the village —which is about a 60-40 ratio of young families to seniors — is still very divided on the issue.
“A lot of people in Cap-Pelé of the older generation still feel that he is worthy of having the name on the arena,” said Mr. Doiron. “That being said, with the allegations and the testimonials we’ve heard in the last few days, there was always some hearsay of things that were not kosher. [Even] when he was there, there were always some whispers of things not being appropriate. Now it’s coming out.”
Regis Cormier, 68, was a Boy Scout and a priest’s helper at the church when Léger was at the Ste Therese d’Avila parish. He was never aware of any wrongdoing by the priest, whom he remembers being helpful and interested in helping young people remain active and engaged.
“They’re accusing a … man that’s died, buried and can’t defend himself and I think it’s unfair,” said Mr. Cormier. “I’m not saying he’s not guilty. We all do things in life that are not correct.”
He believes city council is mismanaging the issue and that many people come forward with such claims in pursuit of money —and he says he’s not the only one who holds that view.
There are still many, though, who feel it’s time to put a painful history on the table.
It’s time to open up about it, said Ms. Blanchette, a mother of two, “so we can turn the page and people can move on,” she said.
“Now in 2012, everything is so much more open. We tell our kids ‘If something happens to you, tell,’” she said.
Halifax-area lawyer John McKiggan, who has worked with other victims of Catholic sexual abuse, said he’s received calls about Léger in the past, but he’d never been retained by any victims.
“Cap-Pelé is a small town. I have found in the work that I’ve been doing on [priest abuse] for the past 20 years now, that although no one talks about it, everybody knows about it,” he said. If this gentleman [Mr. Gaudet] said he’s talked to dozens of other victims, then there’s a lot more people out there who know that this was going on
He said it will be interesting to see the results of the plebiscite. “That’ll give you some idea of the credibility the town as a whole is giving these allegations.”