Ottawa priest defrocked following abuse admissions, allegations

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Updated: October 1, 2018

William Barry McGrory leaves the court house in Ottawa in November 2016.
Tony Caldwell / Postmedia Network

An Ottawa priest who is to stand trial next year on historic sex abuse charges has been defrocked by the Vatican.

Barry McGrory, 83, is the second Ottawa priest to be dismissed from the priesthood in the clergy sex-abuse scandal. The Catholic Church calls the dismissal process “laicization,” and it is considered the harshest penalty the Vatican can deliver.

His official removal from the priesthood follows a determined campaign by one of his acknowledged victims, Colleen Passard, who reached an out-of-court settlement with the diocese in 1997 for the abuse she suffered after meeting McGrory at Ottawa’s Holy Cross Parish in the 1970s. She was a young teenager at the time.

Passard said the legal settlement included a commitment by the diocese to remove McGrory from the priesthood. But that didn’t happen.

Rather, McGrory was ordered not to present himself as a priest and he was prohibited from celebrating mass, hearing confessions or administering the sacraments.

Two-and-a-half years ago, after this newspaper published a story about McGrory’s role in the clergy sex-abuse scandal, Passard renewed her calls to have him removed from the priesthood. She met with Rev. Christian Riesbeck, auxilliary bishop of Ottawa, and prepared a victim-impact statement at his request.

That statement gave a detailed account of her abuse by McGrory, and concluded with a plea to church officials: “I urge you on behalf of myself, all of McGrory‘s victims, and all good priests, to laicize Father Barry McGrory. It is the most merciful and compassionate action you can take. Every day that McGrory remains a priest is a shameless hypocrisy — and a mockery of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.”

In a message emailed to Passard last week, the Archdiocese of Ottawa announced that McGrory had been officially removed from the priesthood.

“Following the petition of Archbishop (Terrence) Prendergast, Pope Francis has dismissed Barry McGrory from the clerical state,” wrote diocesan spokesman Deacon Gilles Ouellette.

“We appreciate your patience and perseverance, given the length of time that was required to arrive at this decision. We continue to pray that healing and reconciliation will come to you and to all victims.”

Passard welcomed the news and thanked all of the victims and advocates who applied pressure to church officials. “Evil can no more masquerade as light,” she said. “Alleluia.”

McGrory faces a handful of charges in connection with two historic sex abuse complaints, and is scheduled to stand trial in April 2019. Charges in connection with a third complainant were withdrawn earlier this year after the man died of cancer.

Two years ago, this newspaper reported that the Archdiocese of Ottawa had settled out of court with two women who said they were abused as adolescents by McGrory in the 1970s when he was pastor at Holy Cross. One of the victims was paid $300,000 in one of the largest settlements of its kind in the Ottawa diocese.

In an interview published at the same time, McGrory said he was a sex addict, and suffered from a powerful attraction to adolescents, both male and female, as a young cleric.

McGrory said he told then-archbishop Joseph-Aurèle Plourde about his sexual problems in the mid-1980s, and asked for treatment. Instead of receiving help, McGrory said, he was transferred to a Toronto organization dedicated to assisting remote Catholic missions, many of them in Canada’s North.

Four years after leaving Ottawa, in 1991, McGrory was charged with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old Indigenous youth and later convicted of the crime. He was given a suspended sentence and three years’ probation.

After “surrendering” himself to God following his arrest in that case, McGrory said, he was healed of his sex addiction and his attraction to adolescents. He now lives in Toronto, where he belongs to a group called Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, which employs a 12-step program similar to that pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous.

Ottawa born and raised, McGrory holds a PhD in theology from Thomas Aquinas University in Rome. In 1974, he was named pastor of the Holy Cross Parish, where he became a high-profile peace and social justice activist.

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