Special report: Priest admits to sexual abuse for first time in Citizen interview

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The Ottawa Citizen

Published on: May 17, 2016 | Last Updated: May 17, 2016 6:19 PM EDT

Rev. Barry McGrory in 1975
Rev. Barry McGrory in 1975

The Archdiocese of Ottawa will not say how many victims of clergy sex abuse it has recognized or how much it has paid them. But, as Andrew Duffy reports in this series, documents filed in a recent lawsuit begin to answer those questions, while also revealing details of never-before-known cases — such as that of Rev. Barry McGrory. Read Part 1 of this series: “Insurance lawsuit reveals secrets of Ottawa’s clergy abuse scandal” here. Read Part 2 below. Read Part 3: “Ottawa diocese repeatedly warned about local clergy’s most notorious abuser” Wednesday.


A retired Catholic priest admitted, in an interview with the Citizen, that he sexually abused three young parishioners at Ottawa’s Holy Cross Parish in the 1970s and ’80s.

Rev. Barry McGrory said he was a sex addict who suffered from a powerful attraction to adolescents, both male and female.

Then Archbishop Joseph-Aurèle Plourde, he said, knew of his sexual problems before moving him to a Toronto-based organization dedicated to assisting remote Catholic missions.

Many of the missions were in native communities in Canada’s north.

Four years after leaving Ottawa, in 1991, McGrory was charged with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old native youth.

McGrory told the Citizen he was a victim of his illness, a sexual disorder from which he’s now cured.

“There was this terrible dark side that I had to confront — and I just didn’t handle it well,” McGrory, 82, told the Citizen during an hour-long telephone interview from Toronto, where he now lives as a retired priest.

“It could have been handled much, much better.”

In August 1993, McGrory pleaded guilty to sexual assault in a Toronto courtroom and was given a suspended sentence along with three years’ probation.

In the years after McGrory’s conviction, the Archdiocese of Ottawa settled out of court with two of his Holy Cross victims. One victim was paid $300,000 in one of the the largest settlements of its kind in the history of the diocese.

It negotiated confidentiality agreements with both victims. (A 2011 protocol on clergy sexual abuse, published by the Archdiocese of Ottawa, prohibits such confidentiality agreements unless requested by the victim.)

A third victim of McGrory’s sexual abuse is now suing the diocese for $1.5 million.

McGrory has neither been charged with a crime in Ottawa, nor defrocked by the Vatican.

The Citizen sent the Archdiocese of Ottawa an 11-point memo about this series in search of comment. A spokesman, Deacon Gilles Ouellette, responded: “The archdiocese prefers not to comment at this time.”

Rev. Barry McGrory
Rev. Barry McGrory

McGrory’s history of abuse at Holy Cross — one of the most disturbing chapters in Ottawa’s clergy sex abuse scandal — has never been publicly exposed until now. It came to light only when the diocese filed court documents as part of a legal dispute with its insurance company earlier this year.

Those documents named the victim, outlined the facts of her case, and revealed details of her $300,000 settlement.

The woman, who signed a confidentiality agreement as part of her 1997 out-of-court settlement, has never spoken publicly about the case.

Some old non-disclosure agreements negotiated by the diocese impose a $50,000 penalty for victims who retell their stories after accepting a settlement.

Court documents reveal her abuse began when the girl was 13-years-old in 1975 and continued for five years at Holy Cross Parish, where McGrory was pastor.

The Citizen, after investigating the claims, tracked McGrory to a condominium in Toronto’s fashionable Distillery District. He admitted to having a sexual relationship with the teenager.

Asked how many young people he sexually abused during his clerical career, McGrory demurred: “I have no idea,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve … I’m not going to answer that question. I don’t think … It’s not a very nice question to ask.”

Asked what it’s like to live with his history of sex abuse, McGrory said: “It’s pretty awful, it’s pretty awful. It’s absolutely disgusting, but I believe in a merciful God. And I would not have been able to survive that otherwise. But it was an illness, hebephilia.”

Hebephiles have a strong sexual attraction to adolescents. But the diagnosis is controversial, and hebephilia does not have official status in DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association’s authoritative guide of mental disorders.

In the 1970s, Rev. Barry McGrory was a rising star in the Catholic clergy.

He was then a high-profile social justice and peace activist who wrote and lectured about human rights in Central America. He travelled frequently to Nicaragua and established a twin parish with St. Francis Xavier Church in Managua. For four years, he contributed to a popular Ottawa radio show, Focus Religion.

Ottawa-born and raised, he held a commerce degree from St. Francis Xavier University, a theology degree from the University of Ottawa, and a PhD in theology from Thomas Aquinas University in Rome. He taught at Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Que. and St. Paul’s University in Ottawa.

He was also a sexual predator who preyed on troubled young people at Holy Cross Parish.

Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in Ottawa. Photographed on May 8, 2016.
Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in Ottawa. Photographed on May 8, 2016. James Park

McGrory was pastor of the Walkley Road church from 1974 to 1986.

One girl, Karen (not her real name), a Grade 8 student at Holy Cross Separate School, met McGrory in 1975 when she sought counselling for problems that she was experiencing at home. She was 13-years-old at the time.

A former schoolmate told the Citizen that Karen was both troubled and beautiful. “She had a Katharine Hepburn kind of beauty,” said Jackie Cowan, a former classmate, who now lives in Victoria, B.C.

Court documents suggest McGrory’s abuse of Karen began while she was still in Grade 8.

McGrory insisted to the Citizen the sexual contact began a year later.

Karen’s former lawyer, Frank MacMillan, set out her allegations in a May 1997 letter filed in court by the Archdiocese of Ottawa.

“It will be our client’s evidence that she was seduced by McGrory when she was 13 years of age,” MacMillan wrote, “and thereafter was controlled by McGrory in a daily sexual-touching relationship at the church, which included some 25 instances of vaginal intercourse with physical violence, and an ‘all-the-time routine’ of McGrory’s forced acts of masturbation on Karen.”

Concluded MacMillan: “McGrory took advantage of this impressionable child and sexually abused and exploited her.”

McGrory denied using violence in any of his sexual encounters.

Jackie Cowan said Karen believed McGrory — then in his early-40s —was her boyfriend. He had convinced Karen, she said, that he was in love with her and would marry her one-day.

McGrory denies this.

Eventually, according to court documents, Karen’s parents sought counselling to address their daughter’s “despondent and inexplicable behaviour.” They turned to McGrory for advice.

McGrory suggested to them that Karen’s problems “arose from their lack of parenting skills,” MacMillan said. He recommended that she move out of the house.

“It is our position that McGrory’s counselling was calculated to further alienate Karen from her parents, protect him from discovery, and make her more susceptible to his control,” MacMillan charged.

McGrory denies the accusation and insists that he was close to the girl’s parents. He described them as “great people.”

Jackie Cowan told the Citizen that Karen moved in with her while they were both students at Brookfield High School. She would sometimes accompany McGrory and Karen when they went on drives or out to dinner.

“He (McGrory) was very charming before you saw the other side of him,” she said.

McGrory once came to a birthday party at the apartment Cowan shared with Karen. Cowan retreated to her bedroom, but it was so noisy that she moved to the extra bed in Karen’s room, which was further from the party scene.

Late that evening, Cowan said, McGrory came into the bedroom with Karen. Cowan pretended to be asleep, she told the Citizen, because she didn’t want to be dragged back to the party. Then she watched as McGrory and Karen began to kiss.

“I’m watching this, horrified,” she said, “and then the next thing I know he starts trying to force her to give him a blowjob. She didn’t want to give him a blowjob. So he started getting really angry and then he started banging her head against the wall, trying to force her to give him a blowjob.

“I still remember so vividly his hands on the side of her head, and her hair flying.”

McGrory said he can’t remember the party and denied forcing the teen to perform oral sex.

He repeatedly blamed the victim for “instigating” sexual contact.

Asked how he can blame a teenager for sex acts that happened when he was an adult priest, McGrory said: “That’s a good point. I certainly should take my own responsibility in saying yes to her. I don’t know what else I could have done.”

In her $1.5-million lawsuit, launched in 1996, Karen alleged that the diocese knew of the danger McGrory posed to young people but recklessly ignored it.

The diocese settled the case out of court for $300,000, according to the lawsuit filed by the diocese against its insurance company.

Karen was not the only one victimized by McGrory at Holy Cross.

Rev. Barry McGrory in 1975.
Rev. Barry McGrory in 1975.

The diocese settled out of court with another young woman, and is now being sued by a man, who alleges that McGrory sexually abused him as a boy during an 11-year period between 1974 and 1985.

McGrory has admitted to abusing the boy. He told the Citizen that his behavior in that case was an exception since the male victim was so young.

“That was a gross and horrific exception, and I’m terribly ashamed of that,” he said. “And I’ve worked very, very hard to get the diocese to do something about it.”

The man, Malcolm (not his real name), attended Holy Cross Catholic School as a boy.

Malcolm first met McGrory after giving a gospel reading at a school mass. According to a statement of claim filed in the case, McGrory praised and encouraged him, then began to insinuate himself into his life.

McGrory, he said, supplied his family with groceries and invited him to dinner at the rectory. At the age of 9 or 10, Malcolm said, McGrory began to offer him wine with dinner.

One evening, after several glasses of wine, McGrory escorted him to a bedroom, undressed him, touched his genitals, and performed oral sex, according to the statement of claim.

Malcolm was upset and ashamed, the claim alleges, but he continued to accept invitations from McGrory. The pattern repeated itself at subsequent dinners.

“Once (Malcolm) was intoxicated, he would invite him to a private space in the rectory and subject him to various sexual acts,” the statement of claim says.

The alleged acts took place both in the church rectory and at a cottage in Val-des-Monts.

Once, when he was 13 or 14, Malcolm returned home intoxicated from an outing with McGrory and driving the priest’s car. His mother called then Archbishop Joseph-Aurèle Plourde’s office.

Unable to reach the archbishop, she went to his office and demanded to see him. “He refused to meet with her and ordered his staff to forcibly remove her from his office,” the statement of claim alleges.

The sexual abuse continued throughout Malcolm’s teenage years, and only ended when he moved from Ottawa at the age of 20, according to the claim.

The allegations made in Malcolm’s statement of claim have not been proven in court.

McGrory told the Citizen that Plourde was aware of his predilection for adolescents.

“I do remember talking to Bishop Plourde, and I told him that I was attracted to these young people, and I said, ‘The problem is they’re attracted to me.’

“He said, ‘Well, that’s because they feel your love for them.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, wow, how does he know that?’”

McGrory could not pinpoint the date of his conversation with Plourde, who retired as archbishop of Ottawa in 1989.

McGrory said he also wrote Plourde a letter in 1986 or 1987 in which he asked for treatment and said he’d “pay any price” to get rid of his affliction. He did not get a response from Plourde, and McGrory said he regrets not being more explicit in his demands for help.

“I’ll never understand Archbishop Plourde, why he sent me to Toronto. Maybe he just wanted to get rid of me,” said McGrory.

Plourde died in January 2013.

McGrory left Ottawa on sabbatical in 1986. The following year, he was named president of a Roman Catholic organization — now known as Catholic Missions in Canada — dedicated to fostering the faith in remote communities.

After his 1993 criminal conviction, McGrory received treatment for his alcoholism and sex addiction at Southdown Institute, north of Toronto.

A 12-step program cured him of his sexual disorder, and God has since allowed him to find inner peace, he said.

During the past two decades, McGrory has continued to pursue his passion for social justice as a volunteer at the Don Jail, as an international peace activist, and as a native rights advocate.

In June 1998, McGrory appeared before a Queen’s Park committee and launched a broad attack on the then Conservative government and its “persecution of the most vulnerable and the most helpless among us” — mothers, children, aboriginals, and the poor.

Later, in an exchange with an MPP, McGrory demanded the kind of accountability from the government that he said he would one day deliver before God.

“I’ll face my maker,” he vowed. “I want to be judged and I expect to be accountable for everything I’ve done, and I won’t shirk it. I can’t shirk it. I don’t expect to shirk it.”

Contact Andrew Duffy at [email protected] or at 613-726-5853
Twitter.com/citizenduffy

13 Responses to Special report: Priest admits to sexual abuse for first time in Citizen interview

  1. Geenda says:

    Another sexual predator who stole the future from his young victims. He gets off with a slap on the hand and their lives are completely destroyed forever. They will never be able to form strong loving relationships with other adults, and never, ever be at peace. The priesthood is a disgusting haven for child abuse, child pornography and child rape protected at every level in society from prosecution. But child molesters a warning..don’t get too complacent…they are coming for you! Eventually you will all be caught. We are only seeing the problems here in the western world, what do you think they do when they travel to south and Central America? Indonesia. Thailand remember Lahey? Do you think he was travelling to Thailand etc. and just LOOKING at the vile childporn he was caught with? Of course not he was abusing little helpless boys who have no protection in those countries. It will take some time but they will be caught. Always be suspicious of priests travelling to those places…

  2. joebob says:

    The Catholic Church has ignored the bibles authority for a man to be the husband of one wife which is a fundamental natural desire that God made man with. The Catholic Church by not allowing the priesthood to marry brought about this huge problem where priests denied of this natural process turned to young people to fulfill their sexual desires. Then instead of helping those who reached out they hid them and recycled them . Ask yourself how this religion was able to get away with it for so many years and why our justice system is so lenient on them when exposed. Then ask the biggest question how come the Catholic Church is not being hauled into court for protecting these priests and charged. The ones who transferred them and did not get them help are Co conspirators . Has any of them been charged along with the accused priest? Not just civil court action but also criminal charges for cover up !!!

  3. Geenda says:

    Re: Terrence Pendergast’s comments about doing better……

    “Doing better” means IMMEDIATELY removing pedophile priests and jailing them for life, because a life sentence is what they gave their victims! “Doing better” does not mean moving them around, sending them to countries where you KNOW the abuse will continue we all know vulnerable child victims in poor countries have nowhere to turn. “Doing better” means getting to the root of institutionalized rape and molestation of children.”doing better”means stiffer sentences and a strong message to pedophile-priests ( yes McGrory this means you! try telling the little 9 year old you’re not a pedophile)…This has not continued unabated without help and complicity from the highest levels and the Bishops themselves…look at Bishop Lahey coming back from Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia..WTF do you think he was doing there? Look at what he brought back.. It might give you a clue.. Some things cannot EVER be forgiven. So don’t f***king talk about doing better until you are prepared to stand up and DO better!

    • 1 abandoned sheep says:

      AND, do you remember Lahey landed in OTTAWA, NOT Halifax, and was on his way to meet with the Papal Nuncio- who fled the Country the next day?
      Then, who gives Lahey a place to live? Well, just that man about the WORLD, the ever traveling ARCHBISHOP PRENDERGAST, in Diocesan residence !!!
      When asked why, the A B responded- * WELL, WHAT ELSE WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO?*
      And this very weak man and poor Catholic is our Archbishop !!! Wow- how did we get so lucky?

      • 1 abandoned sheep says:

        This is a caution for everyone with a weak stomach. DO NOT read the article in today s Ottawa Sun, authored by the Archbishop of Ottawa.
        He makes the Senate scandal, and other untoward activity look mild compared to the way he shirks responsibility on behalf of himself and all former Bishops in Ottawa who ignored criminal activity for years committed by MANY Priests, only some of whom have been so far identified.
        Currently, he could, if he wanted to, apologize for calling Priests from other Diocese to work in the Archdiocese, who have abuse of minors in their history, but, do you think that will happen? Of course not- it has not been fully exposed just yet

      • Geenda says:

        Wow..I never knew that…but sadly I am not surprised. (My apologies for misspelling Prendergast)

  4. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Geenda; Way to go! You have said it like it is. This is the kind of vermin that is running the Catholic Church! The church (and it’s followers) have not a hope in hell unless they move up to the plate and get rid of the bestial wolves in sheep’s clothing. We are called to pray for, and have mercy on these creatures, and I agree with that. But, BUT they do not belong in the Catholic priesthood. Mike.

    • Geenda says:

      I couldn’t agree more, and I am totally sick of all the ‘apologists’ looking for reasons why these priests victimized children. They cite all manner of excuses, they had to remain celebrate, deny their natural urges etc.. I have known many people in my life who have had to for whatever reason, go without human warmth and sexual love, and I have known many to go outside the marital relationship to find sex with another consenting adult. I have known no one who has decided that since they can’t have sex, they’ll victimize, rape and sodomize an innocent child! There is a reason pedophiles were attracted to the priesthood, they found acceptance at all levels for what they were doing. They were covertly allowed to continue. The priesthood is no different than any other pedophile ring, they were all quietly helping each other and sharing their victims. Let’s not forget the iceberg runs deep and we are nowhere near the bottom.

      • MLAC says:

        Geenda you hit all of the points!! My disgust is that this whole series in the Ottawa Citizen by Andrew Duffy is published and read by thousands and yet, that is the end of it! This woman goes out on a limb and publically exposes that creep McGrory for the pedophile he is and there is no follow up. The Archbishop says we’ll try harder and that is all? I find it disturbing that there is still no consequence for McGrory or the Catholic Church. Disgusting.

  5. PJ says:

    They are all nothing but trash. Protecting perverts and spin-doctoring comments to their parishioners to look like they are doing everything they can for victims. What a pile of bullshit. Until that church from the top down cleans house by defrocking the perverts, punishing the defenders, and truly helps the victims, they will be noting more than a criminal perverted organization.

  6. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Once again I see the church elevating itself above civil law, as if it really doesn’t exist in the church’s world.
    Prendergast’s recent “statement” is living proof. Not once in his rambling hot-air epistle does he mention the word “police” or “criminal sexual assault”.
    The Archdiocese of Ottawa wants all of these “matters” referred to the Archbishop’s office, and to it’s “committee”.
    We have already seen what this leads to, huh? Absolutely nothing, except maybe a referral to Southdown and we all know how effective Southdown is, huh?
    To hell with the victims, let’s just keep it quiet and save the resulting “scandal”.
    Joseph Raymond Windle pioneered this type of action, and his legacy lives on.
    How absolutely vile and disgusting. Mike.

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