“Suspended Ottawa priest acquitted of sexual assault charge” with video

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Joanne Schnurr, CTV Ottawa

Published Tuesday, May 2, 2017 5:18PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 2, 2017 7:03PM EDT

An Ottawa courtroom erupted in applause today after a Catholic priest was found not guilty of sexually assaulting a young boy.

Reverend Stephen Amesse said he had forgiven his accuser, but the 14-year-old boy’s family left the court house in tears. It’s been nearly three years since police began their investigation after an allegation that the boy had been sexually assaulted in a west end Ottawa church. Three long years for both the priest and the boy, but only one of them left the courthouse feeling justice had been done.

Surrounded by his supporters, Stephen Amesse walked out of court a free man.

Stephen Amesse (left) leaves Elgin courthouse

“I feel very good, of course,” Amesse told CTV News outside of court, “but I do want people to know I have forgiven my accuser and his family and I’ve asked my folks to pray for them, that they find peace. And I’m looking forward to going back to ministry.”

Amesse was suspended from the ministry and his work at St. Patrick Church in Fallowfield after he was charged in 2014 with two counts of sexual assault and two counts of sexual interference. The charges dated back to 2008 and involved a 14-year-old boy.

But Tuesday, Justice Martin James said there were too many inconsistencies to convict Amesse.

“The accumulative effect of discrepancies and inconsistencies in face of the denial by accused is such that I am unable to determine conclusively what is the truth and what is not,” Justice James told court, “As result, the accused is entitled to be found not guilty on all charges of the indictment.”

The father of the accused, who is now 24, was stunned.

“We’re upset as a family,” said the man, whose name is under a publication ban, “and our son, despite what court found, did the right thing. We know this happened.”

The judge chastised supporters who applauded after the verdict, saying, “This is not a cheering section.”

Those same supporters are anxious to see their priest back behind the pulpit.

“I’m ecstatic about it. I don’t think it should have gotten to this point at all,” Joe Kennedy said.

Leona Rooney added, “His parishioners love him. We’re not even his parishioners, we love him anyway. He’s a wonderful man.”

Amesse was ordained late in life at age 41. He had previously worked on Parliament Hill for the Liberal Party.

In a statement, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast said now that Amesse has been acquitted, he will “review the suspension imposed and discuss, with all concerned, how Fr. Amesse may best serve the Church of Ottawa.”

“I haven’t spoken to the bishop yet but I’m hoping to get back as soon as possible,” Amesse added.

A woman who blogs about sex abuse in the church, Sylvia MacEachern, says she hopes the decision today doesn’t dissuade other potential victims from coming forward on other cases but fears it will.

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