The Star Phoenix (Saskatoon, Sask.)
Photograph by: Gord Waldner , The StarPhoenix
A sexual assault by a priest on a 10-year-old girl in the middle of the night has caused the victim to lose her faith in God and her trust in people.
“The sight of any Catholic priest disgusts me and when I see one, I think, ‘I bet that priest has sexually assaulted a child,’ just like you did to me,” the 46-year-old woman told Omer Desjardins as she stood across from him in Saskatoon provincial court.
Desjardins, 82, pleaded guilty to one count of indecent assault, stemming from the incident in 1978 in a small community north of Saskatoon, and lawyers made sentencing arguments Tuesday in Saskatoon provincial court.
Desjardins doesn’t remember the specifics of what happened, but accepted the woman’s allegation — that while they were both guests at her grandparents’ house one night, he came into her room and sexually touched her.
He was battling alcoholism then and was drinking that night, his lawyer George Green said in court. It “doesn’t excuse his behaviour,” Green said, but added that Desjardins stopped drinking in 1981 and completed a course in 1984 that allowed him to become an alcohol addiction counsellor.
Desjardins was ordained as a priest in 1958 and worked most recently as chaplain at Saint Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, but he retired in September — after the charge was laid — “for the good of his employer,” Green said.
The victim decided to report the crime to police last year. In her victim impact statement, she said she kept the crime buried for too long and she believed the world and Desjardins’ family needed to know what he did to her.
“For years, I tried not to think of what you did to me, but as I look back and think of that night, I realize your betrayal has and always will affect the person I have become,” she said, addressing Desjardins.
“When my daughter, please listen to this, when my daughter sits on my husband or grandfather, I watch to make sure that they are not touching her inappropriately. How sick is that of me?”
Crown prosecutor Matthew Miazga argued for an 18-month jail sentence, saying the primary objective in sentencing in this case should be public denunciation of how Desjardins’ abused his position of trust.
Green argued for a 12-month conditional sentence order, which is a jail sentence served in the community. He noted Desjardins, who has no criminal record, pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and has led a productive life of helping others.
Desjardins previously wrote an apology to the victim, but also read a statement in court apologizing for his actions.
“I recognize that she has had to live with emotional scars all these years,” Desjardins said. “My deepest hope is that by taking ownership for my actions, she will be assisted in her healing journey and be able to find peace and release from the hurt I have caused her.”
Judge Byron Wright reserved his sentencing decision to Jan. 22.
Victim impact statement from a 46-year-old woman, who was 10 years old when Omer Desjardins sexually touched her one night in 1978.
You sexually assaulted many years ago, when I was only a child. This betrayal has affected me from that night on to the present day.
I did tell my grandmother the very next morning that you had done this to me, but she did not share this with my mother, her own daughter.
You were a priest, supposedly a man of God. How could you do this to an innocent child?
For many years, I tried not to think of what you had done to me and how it has affected me from that day forward. I became a mother (in 2003) and was blessed with a beautiful daughter … I once again started to think about the sexual assault after the birth of my daughter. She is my world and I want to protect her from all the evil in this world, especially sexual predators like you.
I finally decided last year that it was time to report this crime to the police. Even though it had been 30-plus years, the world and your family needed to know what you did to me as a child.
A man of God, you call yourself. People are supposed to trust and feel safe around a priest.
You deceived me and your crime has affected my life so drastically that it has been a life of pure sadness, hatred and mistrust. I hate the person that I am and have become. Your betrayal has provided me with a life of unhappiness. I do not trust anyone and I find it very difficult to forgive.
I kept this buried for too long and because of that, I have lost out of so much in life.
You wrote me a letter of apology and I have read it a few times, but, Omer Desjardins, I cannot forgive you at this time and may never, for taking away my innocence and my belief in God. You are old, but you are, and always will be, a sexual predator of innocent children, in my mind.
The sight of any Catholic priest disgusts me and when I see one, I think, ‘I bet that priest has sexually assaulted a child,’ just like you did to me.
For years, I tried not to think of what you did to me, but as I look back and think of that night, I realize your betrayal has and always will affect the person I have become.
So this is how your sexual assault has affected me physically and emotionally: As a child and into my 20s, if I was staying at my dad’s, I would try to stay awake as long as I could, fearing that my dad would sexually abuse me, which he never did, but I never trusted anyone because of you.
I don’t know what it feels like to be happy. I don’t trust anyone, especially men. I’m always angry. I do not feel loved, and I do not deserve to be loved. I am sad and lonely and feel very alone. I feel empty. I have thought of taking my own life.
I do not believe there is a God, because you, as a man of God, have taken that from me. I am unable to work because of my illness and have lost my nursing registration because I have been unable to return to work.
When my daughter, please listen to this, when my daughter sits on my husband or grandfather, I watch to make sure that they are not touching her inappropriately. How sick is that of me?
Omer Desjardins, this is only a short list of how your sexual assault has affected my family and me
Apology read in court by Omer Desjardins, 82, after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl in 1978.
First of all, I wish to reiterate my apology to the innocent victim … for the pain and suffering I inflicted on her 36 years ago.
I recognize that she has had to live with emotional scars all these years. My deepest hope is that by taking ownership for my actions, she will be assisted in her healing journey and be able to find peace and release from the hurt I have caused her.
I also wish to apologize to my family and friends … for putting them through this painful ordeal. I appreciate their love and support through this difficult journey and deeply regret being such a disappointment and embarrassment to them, and for the public humiliation I have brought upon them.
Furthermore, I wish to express my sorrow for bringing dishonour to the reputation of my religious community, the Oblates. I also feel a deep remorse and sadness for how my actions have negatively affected the image of the priesthood.
As one who has dedicated his whole life to helping others and bringing spiritual comfort, I am now ashamed to admit that my past actions stand in such stark contradiction to this calling.
Since I am now 82 years old, I would consider myself fortunate, blessed to have a few more years to live. During those remaining years, I resolve to make amends by ensuring I give back to the community and try to improve the lives of others, that which I have done for decades, especially as hospital chaplain for 30 years, the ministry from which I unfortunately had to retire last September …
I repeat again, I take complete and full responsibility for the harm I have caused … and offer again my sincere apology.