Cornwall Standard Freeholder
Friday, December 15, 2017 8:01:37 EST PM
The Cornwall courthouse on Second Street West. File photo
A retired Roman Catholic priest from Glengarry, Denis Vaillancourt, was given to a one-year conditional sentence of six months’ house arrest followed by six months of curfew for groping the adult son of a family who he had served as family priest for decades.
After his sentence, he will be on probation for another year and a registered sex offender for the next decade.
Vaillancourt was convicted of sexually assault back in September after a trial where he never denied touching the young man in his early 20s, but argued it was a momentary lapse in judgment and was not severe enough to constitute an assault. Although the court did find the touching was enough to constitute criminal behaviour, during the sentencing hearing Justice Laurie Lacelle did say that touching the young man’s buttocks and lower abdomen was on the lower end of the spectrum of severity.
This was Vaillancourt’s first criminal offence and the pre-sentence report indicated he had been the victim of sexual abuse in his parent’s ultra-religious household. As an adult, he became celibate when he entered the priesthood.
“You are still in denial, but after reviewing the materials, it appears to be more of a struggle with a lifetime of religious rules and demands which are in contrast with normal human physical longings that you have had to suppress. And you displayed those in an inappropriate and criminal manner,” said Lacelle.
When given an opportunity to speak before the sentence was handed down, Vaillancourt got up and gave a lengthy apology to the victim, as well as his mother and grandmother.
“I am very sorry for what has happened,” said Vaillancourt. “I want to ask for (your forgiveness) and say that I am sorry for everything. I know that in a stupid moment that I did something wrong, but I can tell this will never happen again. I’m really sorry.”
In its submissions to the court, the Crown asked for a jail sentence of three to six months, but could not point to many aggravating factors. The one significant aggravating factor, however, was that Vaillancourt’s advances toward the victim were premeditated and based on information about the young man’s sexuality given to him during confession by his grandmother.
The defence meanwhile asked for a suspended sentence, given he had apologized to the family and had co-operated with police. The defence also noted though he pleaded not guilty, he had not accused the victim of lying or otherwise denigrated him.
In the end, the victim said he was satisfied with the sentence.
“Despite everything that has happened, I did not want him to go to jail,” he said.
With the trial now over, the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall will now have to decide whether it plans to take any further action against Vaillancourt, such as defrocking him. Those discussions will happen likely in the New Year, but for the moment the diocese put out a statement stating its regret about the situation and saying it has since put in new measures to “foster a safe environment.”
“The diocese regrets any case where a priest is found to have betrayed his vows and the sacred trust that is expected of a Roman Catholic cleric. Any form of misconduct by a member of the clergy or other personnel of the Catholic Church is unacceptable,” reads the statement. “We continue to pray for all those impacted by this very serious situation.”
The family at the centre of the case now has to try to deal with this trauma. They considered Vaillancourt a member of the family for over 25 years, and he was part of every celebration and major event in their lives – the memory of which are all now tainted because of what happened.
In their statements, the victim, his mother and grandmother lamented they could not look at any of their photo albums anymore without being reminded what happened, because Vaillancourt was in almost every picture. In all three statements, the sense of betrayal ran deep, and each of them said it had devastated them to their very cores.
“Over the past two years (since the assault) I’ve had so many emotions. The first was denial; I couldn’t believe someone I trusted so much could do this. It got so bad that I started to question my own sanity,” said the victim. “All of my best memories are ruined. I even sent all of our family videos out to be edited so all the parts with (him) can be cut out.”
In a scathing victim impact statement, the victim’s mother spoke directly to Vaillancourt, looking at him in the face almost the whole time, and held prints of her son’s baptism with a much-younger Vaillancourt holding the baby and smiling ear-to-ear.
“Look at these pictures … you are holding him and protecting him, so he doesn’t fall or roll off the altar. How could you, years later, hold my son in your arms and — instead of protecting him — want him for your own sick and perverted needs?” she demanded in tears. “You are in all of my most precious memories, and all I want to do is forget.
“I hate what you have done to me and what I have become. Some days you consume my thoughts so much all I want to do is cry and sleep so I won’t be thinking about what you have done to me. If smashing my head against a wall would get you out of my mind, then I would do so.”