SARNIA — Deliverance from decades of guilt, anger and anguish came with the barely audible “click” of handcuffs.
Gabriele Del Bianco, 57, a sex offender and former Windsor priest, was sentenced Wednesday to four years in prison. He will also be on the federal sex offender registry for the rest of his days.
One survivor of Del Bianco’s abuse clasped her hands over her face and cried – for once, tears of joy – as her former tormentor was shuffled out of a Sarnia courtroom in cuffs. She said later that watching Del Bianco in his last moments of freedom allowed her to feel something she hasn’t experienced in a long time.
“I feel free,” said the woman, whose identity is under a court-ordered publication ban. “I’ve been saying since the beginning that each step of the process was humiliating and hard, but the weight on my shoulders kept getting less as I went and now I’m done. I did everything within my power to take care of him and he’s been taken care of. So, I’m happy.
“To be able to watch him and clear that click, that was good. He’s in jail and he can’t hurt me, so I’m done.”
The former priest served in Windsor as associate pastor at St. John Vianney church and part-time chaplain at Brennan high school from 1985 to 1987. He was administrator at St. Rose of Lima in 1987 and 1988. After that he was associate pastor at St. Gregory in St. Clair Beach and part-time chaplain at St. Anne high school from 1988 to 1990.
He was also pastor at the former Sacred Heart church in Windsor from 1990 until 1994, before leaving the priesthood in 1995. Several years later, allegations of sexual abuse began to surface. He fathered a child – now in his 20s – with one of his victims during his time in the Windsor area. Testimony during the recent trial indicated Del Bianco reached a settlement for a one-time $10,000 child-support payment.
Del Bianco’s trial began last October in Sarnia for 18 sex charges involving four girls in the 1980s and early 1990s. He was acquitted of sexual misconduct charges involving two women but convicted of abusing the other two. He was found guilty in February of gross indecency and two counts of sexual assault.
Del Bianco abused girls on church property and in the basements of their own homes while their parents were upstairs making the priest dinner.
“I feel that we have all been robbed of so much joy,” the victim said Wednesday in court before sentencing. “Uncomplicated joy that comes from a world that makes sense. What Gabe has done doesn’t make sense. And, even more importantly, what God has allowed Gabe to do has left so many of us without faith.”
In handing down the four-year sentence, Superior Court Justice Joseph Donohue said he needed to send a strong message to others in positions of authority over children. He said parents take their children to church for “moral edification, not degradation.”
He also pointed to passages in scripture condemning people who mistreat children.
“This is not a new thing, to take a severe view of breaches of trust with children,” Donohue said.
Defence lawyer Andrew Bradie, who asked for a sentence of two years less a day, said he was “disappointed” with the judge’s decision.
“I’m hopeful that, to some extent, this puts behind some of the pain that the complainants have suffered,” Bradie said. “I know my client is prepared to deal with it. He is glad that this part of his ordeal is over. He will get through this, I’m confident.”
Before his sentencing, Del Bianco apologized to the two victims he was convicted of abusing and said he hoped the trial brought them closure.
“I regret deeply the pain that I have caused,” he said.
“I apologize to them for my immaturity, for disappointing them and breaking their trust in me.”
Del Bianco said he went to counselling and has left behind his “childish sense of self” and parts of himself that he “detested.” But he added that he doesn’t expect to be forgiven.
“I can’t expect that from you, but I do hope your future will be less and less overshadowed by the pain that I have caused,” he said.
The victim who spoke out Wednesday – about lost faith, emotional overeating, suicidal thoughts, paranoia and the shame and guilt that consumes her parents – said she wants to forgive him. But that is a long way off.
“I need time to feel safe and heal too,” she said in her victim impact statement. “I am hopeful that with time and support he will ask for forgiveness. I would be willing to listen. Perhaps when all is said and done, we can all find peace.”
Gabriele DelBianco served parishes in Wallaceburg and Windsor
A dated picture shows Gabriele DelBianco, convicted Feb. 24, 2014 of sexual misconduct involving underage female parishioners from his time as a Catholic priest in Wallaceburg, Ont. and Windsor, Ont. DelBianco was a resident of Kincardine before his conviction. (theinquiry.ca)
SARNIA – Former Catholic priest Gabriele DelBianco, 57, was sentenced to four years in prison for sexual misconduct against two teenage girls in the 1980s.
The victims are now both in their 40s.
On Feb. 24, Superior Court Justice Joseph Donohue found DelBianco guilty of one count of gross indecency against one victim and sexually assaulting the other woman twice.
Sentencing had been delayed until Wednesday.
One of the victims was weeping and nodding as DelBianco left the courtroom in handcuffs.
The balding grey-haired DelBianco was described during the trial as having been like a rock star when he was a young priest.
Such breaches of trust have always been regarded very seriously by society, said Donohue.
In his sentencing, Donohue quoted Matthew 18:6 that states it would be better for those who offend against little ones to have a millstone hung around their neck and drowned in the sea.
Donohue also referred to an appeal court decision stating sexual offences against children during a prolonged time should bring penitentiary time.
The offences by DelBianco covered several years.
In a statement read to the court, one of the victims said she wondered how many years had been shaved off her life as a result of dealing with depression.
“We have all been robbed of so much joy,” said the victim.
DelBianco’s comments in a pre-sentence report make him appear to be the victim, said assistant Crown attorney Aniko Coughlan, who called for prison time of three to five years.
Defence lawyer Andrew Bradie reasoned that a two-year sentence composed of two 90-day sentences to be served intermittently, followed by 18 months of house arrest would be just.
There is no indication DelBianco poses a risk to the community, said Bradie.
“I can’t expect forgiveness,” said DelBianco, who called his crimes “inappropriateness” that he deeply regretted.
The woman who was sexually assaulted testified the activity was consensual but Donohue had ruled the evidence showed the consent was obtained due to DelBianco’s position of authority.
At the time of the offences DelBianco was a trusted friend of the victim’s family.
At one point the victim’s family was upstairs preparing a meal for DelBianco while he was downstairs molesting their daughter, said Donohue.
The relationship had progressed from a surprising kiss when she was 14 to sexual intercourse years later. At one point she travelled for overnight visits at churches where he was the priest. During these visits oral sex was part of the established routine when she was staying in his room.
The gross indecency was also a case where DelBianco exercised his authority to obtain the victim’s consent.
This victim was doing her homework in the church rectory when she was in Grade 8. During one of these sessions DelBianco asked her to remove ingrown pubic hairs with tweezers while he was naked on the bed in his room. She did.
Donohue had said he was satisfied by the victim’s testimony that the “bizarre” act had occurred.
DelBianco left the priesthood in 1996 after serving at churches in Wallaceburg and Windsor.
DelBianco will be on the sexual offender registry for life and must give police a DNA sample.