On a Tuesday afternoon in Cupar, the main doors to the two-tone brick St. Patrick’s Catholic Church are locked up. The white-on-black sign lists the next service as Saturday.
The rectory is similarly quiet. Its resident, retired priest Robert MacKenzie, has been moved to a retirement home in Regina in light of allegations of sexual abuse in Scotland dating back 36 years.
“He claims he’s innocent,” said Archdiocese of Regina Archbishop Don Bolen, who met with MacKenzie on Monday morning, just hours after returning home from Rome.
“Even when he gets to the priest retirement place, he tells them why he’s there, because there’s this accusation. He’s not hiding the fact that there is an accusation and he talks openly about it.”
MacKenzie has worked in the Archdiocese of Regina since 1988. He moved to Cupar, 80 kilometres northeast of Regina, in 1990.
In his home country of Scotland, he worked at a boys’ school, the St. Benedict’s Abbey in Fort Augustus, in the Highlands.
Bolen says the allegations against MacKenzie come from one individual, who alleges two instances of sexual abuse in 1980 and 1981.
According to Scotland’s Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, “The Procurator Fiscal received a report concerning a now 84-year-old male, in connection with alleged historic offences. No court dates have been scheduled at this time.”
MacKenzie turns 85 in June. It is unclear whether he has been officially charged.
Bolen said the Archdiocese first received information on the allegations against MacKenzie in 2013, at which point it suspended him from his priestly duties.
MacKenzie had officially retired in 2002, but continued doing part-time ministry over the years, said Bolen. In January 2015, the Archdiocese lifted the suspension, with one condition. “He was asked never to be alone with children as a safeguard,” said Bolen.
There have been intermittent emails over the years from Scottish prosecutors, most recently in November 2016, when it was “indicated that the situation was unchanged in Scotland, that the Crown counsel was still contemplating moving towards criminal procedures,” said Bolen. “But at no point have we been notified of any proceedings by the alleged victim.”
According to the Sunday Post in Dundee, Scotland, the Crown Office is beginning steps to extradite MacKenzie from Canada for trial. The Crown Office could not confirm.
Bolen said he knows of no allegations in Canada against MacKenzie. The RCMP had not heard any either.
And at least a handful of Cupar residents have nothing bad to say about the priest.
A man having lunch at the High Plains Grill and Saloon on the main drag said MacKenzie uses a walker due to a bad back, hip and knees.
“He’s a very nice guy,” said one man.
Nobody in town agreed to speak on the record.
“Nobody wants to be highlighted,” another man said. “Lots of people, you get into a small town, and everybody’s pretty closely knit … We all socialize together and do whatever.”
He added, “I don’t think we’ve had any trouble here whatsoever … (MacKenzie is a) super guy. He fits in.”
One woman, peeling onions in the church basement for a pre-Easter cabbage roll sale, said she has known “Father Bob” for years. Her son was an altar boy and she had never heard any abuse allegations about him.
Another woman, a neighbour, said MacKenzie is quiet and keeps to himself. He has cancer in his leg, she said.
She wondered why allegations from more than three decades ago would be brought up now.
Bolen said the church should stick up for victims of abuse and take any allegation seriously.
“Any accusation of clergy sexual abuse has to be taken very seriously, and … the reality of it is tragic,” said Bolen. “It’s an utter contradiction of what we’re called to do as clergy and it leaves such a tragic legacy for victims.”
A prayer service was held at St. Cecilia Roman Catholic Church in Regina 2 ½ weeks ago in honour of victims of sexual abuse.
The Sunday Post spoke with MacKenzie’s accuser, who said this “long drawn-out process” has been “a living hell.”
The newspaper also spoke with MacKenzie, who said there was “absolutely no truth in the allegations” and he had “long ago” been cleared of wrongdoing.
MacKenzie could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.