Winnipeg Oblate priest charged with historic sexual assault

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Victim alleges he was paid a settlement in 1993

CBC News

Posted: Jan 12, 2017 5:00 AM CT  Last Updated: Jan 12, 2017 5:00 AM CT

By Caroline Barghout, 

It is a secret he’s kept for 28 years. Now Joe is ready to talk about the sexual abuse he said he endured at the hand of a Winnipeg priest.

It was October 1988 when Joe first met Father Omer Desjardins. He was working as the night caregiver at Credo Home, a Winnipeg group home run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Roman Catholic religious community of priests and brothers commonly referred to as the Oblates.

Joe had just turned 15 and didn’t want to live with his mother and her boyfriend. He became a ward of Child and Family Services and was placed in the group home.


Father Omer Desjardins was convicted in Saskatchewan in 2015 for the 1978 sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl. (Courtesy Oblates of Mary Immaculate)

“We didn’t really talk to him much cause he didn’t show up for work until 9 or 9:30 p.m., somewhere around there and bedtime for us was 10:30 p.m. on school nights,” said Joe, 43, who does not want his last name used.

But within a few weeks Joe said Desjardins started coming into his room to talk.

“It was pretty normal stuff,” Joe said. “Within a couple weeks, he was coming into the bedroom every night. It started off he’d be rubbing your back. Eventually his hands would slowly start to move.”

Joe spent two years at Credo Home. During that time, he said Desjardins took him on several overnight excursions. There were ski trips in Manitoba and North Dakota, a two-week hike in B.C., and numerous outings to a cottage he said the Oblates owned on West Hawk Lake. Joe said sometimes Desjardins would invite another boy to come, but often it would just be the two of them.

“After the trip was over he just kept coming into my bedroom pretty much between three to five times a week. He’d spend half an hour in my room pretty much every night and I guess I thought, ‘Well there’s no way he’s doing this to anyone because he’s spending so much time in my room,'” Joe said.

Priest charged in Winnipeg, convicted in Saskatoon

In November, Joe came across a CBC News story about Desjardins and learned he had been convicted in 2015 for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl in a small community north of Saskatoon nearly 40 years ago.

Within five minutes of reading the story, Joe had worked up the courage to call Winnipeg police.

Joe and album

Joe kept a photo album, he said Desjardins gave him of photos the Priest took of the teen during overnight trips. (Wendy Buelow(CBC))

“It’s not something you should have to suspect, that somebody’s like grooming you, but that’s kind of what was happening,” Joe said.

“We were looking for somebody to fill a spot in our lives that we were missing and each one of us was pretty much in the exact position and none of us spoke up none of us said anything and it’s almost 30 years.”

Desjardins, 85, was charged January 3, 2017 with sexual assault, sexual exploitation and gross indecency for allegations of abuse against Joe that occurred between October 1, 1988 and July 31, 1989. His case is scheduled to appear in a Winnipeg court January 16.

“I always knew that I wanted him to answer for his crimes. I never wanted to be the first one that tried to convince the police that this is actually who he was,” said Joe.

Victims allegedly blackmailed Desjardins

Joe said he recently learned in the late 1980s, a boy came forward to the head priest at Credo Home alleging Desjardins had abused him. He recalled the boy was transferred out of the home and Desjardins was removed as night caretaker for what Joe said the Oblates called “alcohol issues.”

“But he was still there if not every day, every other day,” said Joe. “The abuse stopped but he still had power somehow. It wasn’t until we asked for money that we got rid of him.”

In 1992, Joe said another boy from the group home told him he had also allegedly been abused. But instead of going to police, the two decided to blackmail Desjardins. They told him they would not go to police if they got money.

“Within like half an hour he had $5,000 in our hands,” Joe said. “We got so high, because that’s kind of what we were doing.  We weren’t dealing with anything, we weren’t talking to any counsellors or anything. We were just existing.”

Joe said eventually they ran out of money and hired lawyers to sue the Oblates for more. He alleged the Oblates gave him a cheque in 1993 for $12,500 and allegedly paid the other victim $17,500.

“You know as well as I do if there was a legal settlement there would be a gag order on it,” said Father Tim Coonen, from the Oblate Provincial Office in Ottawa.

Coonen didn’t know if there was a settlement in the case and said he would not look into it.

“I don’t have the information first and if I did, it would be under all this, you know, you sign all this stuff that says we will not disclose,” Coonen said. “The alleged victim here shouldn’t be talking if he’s got a settlement here but we won’t be prosecuting him.”

Oblates monitor Desjardins

Coonen said while Desjardins can no longer work with the public, he is still an Oblate priest.

“As far as I know he has not been laicized, meaning removed from the priesthood. What I do know is he is still a part of our community and as such is living under our roof and under our supervision and the only ministry would be stuff that he might do in his own house period. He’s not allowed any public ministry whatsoever,” said Coonen.

He said Desjardins is also being looked after by the Oblates.

“He’s a member of our religious order. While there would be an option of throwing him out of the order, the world is a safer place with us keeping him within our own community, within our own house,” Coonen said.

“If we were to throw an 85-year-old man out, he’d end up in a public institution … Who would be supervising him?” said Coonen. “Right now he’s living in a house with a bunch of his brothers who know his case and know his situation and he is better monitored then he would ever be if he were an 85-year-old man living in a public institution.”

Coonen said the Oblates put together safety plans for the handful of priests across the country convicted of “stuff like this” which includes monitoring and restrictions.

“What are they allowed to do and not to do. Can they drive. Can they go out alone or not. We put together those plans tailored for each of our individuals,” said Coonen. “But the world is a much safer place when we keep a guy in our own house and monitor him.

“I’m going to let the courts try him,” said Coonen.

That’s not good enough for Joe, who’s struggled with depression, addiction and holding down a job.

“He should be stripped of absolutely everything the church has been giving him,” Joe said.

Joe doesn’t believe the church should provide Desjardins food and board or a car to drive. Especially since he said that money would come from donations from church congregations.

Joe recently contacted Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian who was featured in the Hollywood movie Spotlight.

“My exact words after telling him I was abused by a priest here were, ‘Do you know of any lawyers in Canada that I can trust?'”

Desjardins’ lawyer said they had no comment yet as they have not received disclosure from the Crown.

  • 1932 – Desjardins was born in Marcelin, Saskatchewan.
  • 1952 – Graduated high school and entered the Noviciate of the Oblates in St. Norbert, Manitoba and went on to obtain the Oblates Scholasticate (Seminary) in Lebert, Saskatchewan for six years.
  • 1958 – Was ordained into priesthood.
  • 1960-68 – Taught at College of Mathieu in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan.
  • 1968 – Moved to Rome to attend the Oblate General House for a one-year period of renewal in spirituality and theology.
  • 1969-71 – Served as an assistant pastor at the Paroisse du Sacre-Coeur in Winnipeg.
  • 1971-74 – Returned to College Mathieu in Gravelbourg as the secretary treasurer. He acted as the school photographer in charge of the yearbook, coached hockey and counselled students.
  • 1974-78 – Moved to Edmonton and served as the chaplin at the Provincial House of the Sisters of Holy Cross. Taught French to his students as well as judges of the Federal Court, civil servants and members of the Armed Forces.
  • 1978-83 – Moved to St. Norbert and served as a member of the retreat team at the Villa Maria Retreat Centre.
  • 1984 – Moved to Santa Barbara, California for a year of renewal studies in Holy Scripture and Theology at the Franciscan Old Mission.
  • 1985 – Served as pastor at Elie and St. Francois, Manitoba.
  • 1986-2014 – Served as the chaplain at St. Boniface General Hospital in Winnipeg.

22 Responses to Winnipeg Oblate priest charged with historic sexual assault

  1. Joe says:

    Coonen said. “The alleged victim here shouldn’t be talking if he’s got a settlement here but we won’t be prosecuting him.”
    Father Coonan seems to want to make ME the bad guy…….. Nothing good has come out of my silence.
    Father Coonan also won’t return my phone calls, but I guess that was to be expected.
    The Oblates should be ashamed!

  2. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Joe – he’s a big, black fungus that should have been removed permanently from the church years ago. Shame on the whole pack of wolves!
    History continues to repeat itself unfortunately. The church still has not learned that it is wrong. Oh yes, their lip service is all full of Christianity and caring, but as soon as the door is closed, the darkness begins again. Mike.

    • poehteena says:

      If you hold something against someone, forgive them so that your father in heaven will forgive you.
      That what the bible said

      God bless you
      Peace be with you

      • Sylvia says:

        St. Matthew 18:6-7

        But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.

        Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh.

        Forgiveness yes, but not without or at the expense of justice. And not when it allows a clerical molester to run amok from parish to parish, diocese to diocese and/or country to country.

        And, from St. Alphonsus Liguori:

        The unchaste priest dishonours the church, and therefore the Lord justly chastises him by making him the most dishonoured of all men.

      • Joe says:

        it is so easy to preach forgiveness isn’t it …… This particular monster cannot be forgiven until we know ALL his victims are safe and getting help.

  3. Tina says:

    We all have sined.
    There is no one righteous, not even one;
    there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
    All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one.
    Their throats are open graves;
    their tongues practice deceit.
    The poison of vipers is on their lips.
    Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”e
    Their feet are swift to shed blood;
    ruin and misery mark their ways,
    and the way of peace they do not know.
    There is no fear of God before their eyes.

    If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

    The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

    The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

  4. Tina says:

    Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman

    Luke 7:36-50

    36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

    39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

    40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

    “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

    41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[c] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

    43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

    “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

    44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

    48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

    49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

    50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Go and sin no more.”


    • Sylvia says:

      Once again Tina:

      St. Matthew 18:6-7

      But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.

      Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh.

      And, once again, from St. Alphonsus Liguori:

      The unchaste priest dishonours the church, and therefore the Lord justly chastises him by making him the most dishonoured of all men.

      And, I’ll add one more, also from St. Alphonsus Liguori. All food for thought for those who may wish, through perhaps a false charity, try to defend the indefensible:

      — Alas! what shall become of the scandalous priest on the day of judgment? I will, says the Lord, meet them as the bear that is robbed of her whelps With what rage does the bear rush on the sportsman that has killed or stolen her whelps! It is thus God has declared that he will meet on the day of judgment the priest that has destroyed instead of saving souls. … And St. John Chrysostom says, “If priests sin, all the people are led to sin. Hence every one must render an account of his own sins; but the priests are also responsible for the sins of others.”

      As an aside, Heaven forbid we get rid of all our police officers and judges and Crowns because we presume that those who are accused have been forgiven by God and hence we here on earth dare not judge them. And if, God forbid, that were to be the case, Heaven help our dear children!

  5. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Tina – you are not addressing the real problem! The real problem is that a roman catholic priest diddled and screwed up children’s lives to satisfy his own twisted sexual needs. This is a criminal offence here in Canada, as it is in the rest of the REAL world. You are obviously not living in this REAL world.
    Go ahead and have compassion for this poor creature ( he obviously needs it) but he doesn’t belong in the catholic priesthood!!!!!!!
    The sacrilege he continues to practice destroys the church’s integrity and credibility.
    If he is not willing, nor capable of honouring his vows of celibacy and chastity he should get out now!!!
    Why would you damn off our authorities for attempting to do this? They are trying to do something that the church as an institution is obviously incapable, or unwilling to do!!
    I am waiting for your response with bated breath……………………….Mike.

    • Joe says:

      It isn’t even the celibacy or chastity that is the problem, while it is an issue ….. the bigger problem is consent, and abuse of minor who they are in a position of power over.

  6. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Honest to God, I suspect some people in our world are suffering from ACUTE hypoxia!!!
    I fail completely to understand why someone (with their heads stuck up in the clouds) would want to support a criminal sexual deviant as a roman catholic priest!!!!
    I used to look at my abuser’s hands as he distributed Holy Communion on Sunday morning and thought, if only these people could know where this sick man’s hands were just 1 hour before he “consecrated” the host!!!
    Just think about it, Tina. Think long and hard!!! What about Omer’s victims? Do you have any compassion for them, or any of the hundreds of others who have been victims of sick, twisted creatures masquerading as “men of the cloth”?
    The church needs to clean house! The church has displayed an obvious unwillingness/ inability to do so. It falls to us, the lowly unwashed, to do it for them for the sake of the future of the church. Mike.

    • 1 abandonedsheep says:

      Mike, I agree with all you have said on this latest attempt by a new saviour of deviant Priests ! On this one, I am wondering if the Tina name is not really a cover name for one of those Priests ? They have done this thing before.

  7. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Yes they have 1AS! The key word here is “they”! I remember all too well “T. Black”, “Glenn”, etc. etc. etc.
    You know my friend, I just don’t get it. I understand the old loyalty to the church, as you do too. We both grew up in “the fold”, and it’s difficult to break that mold.
    The church and the priesthood, to us, was sacrosanct in our day. It, and they, could do no wrong. It is apparent that times have changed!!! The mold has been smashed, and we are left (without direction or leadership) to pick up the smashed pieces.
    The key word you used was “they”! Who are “they” and what is their agenda? Mike.

    • 1 abandonedsheep says:

      Mike, I just thought I would tell you I knew your abuser 65 years ago. I also knew his father, and his brother who was a Doctor, and another one who after practicing Law for a time, became a Cabinet member of the Ontario Legislature.
      His Father, was God Father of my wife

  8. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Thank you for letting me know this. They were a very powerful and wealthy family. It is so unfortunate and sad that one member of a family can over-shadow the tremendous good that one family can do. I knew them all, except for the father and mother.
    I don’t know if you are aware that we (my wife and I) have struck up a friendship with a great-niece of my abuser. She is a wonderful person, and a credit to her family. Mike.

  9. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Agreed, Joe! The abuse of power and authority over a minor, for sexual gratification, is disgusting and criminal.
    My take on chastity and celibacy as an issue, is the breaking of vows from ordination. If the vows cannot/will not be honoured, why make them in the first place? I believe this matter is weakening the priesthood and the church, and will continue to do so. Mike.

  10. JoeB says:

    court for omer monday at 1pm …. I wonder if this will be another remand date, or if they will set a date for him to enter a plea…….. I hope this goes as fast as his Sask case went ……. but I don’t think it will.

  11. Sylvia says:

    Yes, Joe, the Saskatchewan charges moved amazingly quickly. In that case the charges were laid September 2014 – the GUILTY plea came 22 January 2015!

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a case move so quickly through the courts. And quietly. In fact, I called the Sask. courthouse 09 October 2014 to get the next court date and was shocked to learn that the next date was for sentencing. He had obviously quickly and quietly entered a guilty plea.

    Let’s hope for similar speed in Manitoba, but, I agree with you, I don’t think it will – I won’t hold my breath.

  12. JoeB says:

    Just for the fact that there are more than 1 victim this time….. I don’t think it will be speedy…. the only reason it happened so fast in Saskatchewan was to keep it quiet.

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