Chapter 8, Michael Harris, Unholy Orders: Tragedy at Mount Cashel (Penguin Books, 1990, pp 186-212)
This chapter form Unholy Orders is reproduced in its entirety with the kind permission of the author, Michael Harris
He stated that he didn’t believe that he should be treated in this way . . . just the arrest and search of him. He did not believe he should be treated this way because of his position. . . . His immediate response was something to the effect that ‘Don’t matters such as this have to be cleared through the Department of Justice?‘ . . . RCMP Sgt. Kenneth LeBreton, describing the reaction of Father Ronald Hubert Kelly after being arrested on ten charges of indecent assault.
IN THE SPRING of 1979, Newfoundland’s publicity-shy Roman Catholic hierarchy had more things to worry about than the potentially damaging revelations of the Soper Inquiry.
At nine o’clock sharp on the morning of April 30, 1979, Corporal Gerald Tabor, supervisor of the Piccadilly detachment of the RCMP on the west coast of the island, received a complaint that a Father Ronald Kelly had indecently assaulted a fifteen-year-old boy in his parish. After a preliminary investigation, Corporal Tabor turned up unsettling rumours about Father Kelly and several other youths in the small community of De Grau where the priest lived — whispers of forbidden activities that had even reached the ears of Sisters in a local lay order of the Roman Catholic church. Strongly suspecting that he wasn’t dealing with an isolated incident, and feeling, perhaps, that such a sensitive investigation was too much for the three junior constables assigned to the tiny Piccadilly detachment, Tabor requested assistance from the General Investigation Section (GIS) of the RCMP in Corner Brook.
A few days later, on Thursday May 3, Sgt. Kenneth LeBreton and Constable Murray Urquhart began the breathtaking drive down the winding road that leads from Corner Brook to the Port au Port Peninsula, with its- awesome cliffs and rolling hills falling away gently to the sea. The local communities, home to the peninsula’s 7,000 scattered residents, are strung like beads along the lone highway. Constable Urquhart noted in his diary that when you travelled to Port au Port, you always had to leave exactly the same way you came in. Cape St. George, their destination that morning, was where the road came to an end in a spectacular vista of sea and sky. The heart of the community was Our Lady of the Cape Church, where thirty-six-year-old Father Ronald Hubert Kelly had been parish priest since 1973.
The RCMP officers weren’t long in finding out that Father Kelly was no ordinary mortal as far as his adoring parishioners were concerned. To the francophone residents of Cape St. George the tall, strikingly good-looking Roman Catholic priest with the shock of blond hair and sparkling blue eyes was a local hero. In addition to his religious duties, he was chairman of the Port au Port school board. He also founded the first Community Council, brought the Girl Guide and Brownie movements to the community, founded the Corps of Army Cadets at Cape St. George, and established a French immersion program — an invaluable service considering the fragile state of Newfoundland’s isolated francophone community. In 1978 the provincial government had recognized his talent and industry by appointing Father Kelly to the post of Vice-Chairman of the Bay St. George Community College.
Raised in St. John’s, Kelly used the political influence of his father, Hubert Kelly, to lobby for various community improvements in Cape St. George, including the town’s first ambulance, in which the sick were often driven to hospital in the middle of the night by Kelly himself. Of independent means, Kelly was generous with his parishioners, the sort of person who could be depended on to lend money in a pinch and not to complain if the borrower were slow in repaying it. Although there were whispers about another side of Kelly, an unspoken foible that dwarfed his serious drinking problem, every door in Cape St. George remained open to him For the RCMP, it was like investigating Robin Hood.
Luckily for the investigators, the champion of the down-trodden was holidaying in Florida when they arrived in De Grau. “Because of his stature in the community and the immense respect and deep, maybe even at times blind, trust that the people had in him … we were probably fortunate that he was out of the community at that time,” Sergeant LeBreton later testified.
After talking to the first complainant, who had been fourteen when the priest sexually assaulted him, the RCMP investigators also realized that in all probability one of Father Kelly’s favourite community pursuits was young boys. Sitting alone with these boys in their squad car, LeBreton and Urquhart listened in disbelief as a parade of Father Kelly’s male victims described their sexual encounters with the often drunken priest.
The policemen preferred to talk to complainants in their car or back at the detachment office in Piccadilly because the boys’ parents were plainly “entranced” by Kelly. Had they been able to listen in on what their children told the RCMP investigators, their opinions would have changed faster than the capricious winds that blew across Cape St. George from the shimmering expanse of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where most of them made their living.
One sixteen-year-old described how Father Kelly had called his house at 4 A.M. in the fall of 1978 summoning him to the rectory. When he arrived, Kelly, who had already been drinking, gave his young guest two glasses of rum before taking him upstairs, ostensibly to watch television. Dragging the boy to the bed, the priest tried to put his hand into his reluctant companion’s pants. Unsuccessful, Kelly then groped at the boy’s privates through his jeans, exclaiming rather quixotically, “I do not love that, but I love your heart.”
Another boy told police about an incident that had taken place during De Grau’s annual Garden Party in August 1978. The boy was sent home by his parents for fighting. A little while later, Father Kelly showed up and got into bed with him. Almost immediately, the priest tried to force his hand into the boy’s pants. Kelly’s own pants were undone and he thrust his exposed penis near the face of his companion. The boy pretended to be asleep, and half an hour later Father Kelly got up and left. When the boy later told a friend what had happened, he was advised not to repeat the story to anyone, “because a Priest is a high man” and no one would believe him.
A fifteen-year-old who had been with Father Kelly on at least three separate occasions told police that he and the priest had performed mutual fellatio in the rectory, after which the boy was given five dollars. On one of these occasions, Father Kelly showed no signs of having been drinking.
Perhaps the strangest case involved a young boy who had been sexually assaulted by Father Kelly on a number of occasions with the inadvertent blessing of his mother. After showing up drunk at the boy’s home one night, Father Kelly was put to bed by the lady of the house. The priest then asked that her thirteen-year-old son be sent to sleep with him. His hostess obliged, and no sooner had the boy got into bed with the priest than Kelly began fondling his genitals. Kelly told the boy how much he loved him and how much money he had in the bank and that it was the anniversary of his entering the priesthood — all the while continuing his unwelcome stroking.
On another occasion, the same boy was awakened at three or four o’clock in the morning by muffled conversation between his family and Father Kelly. The priest presently appeared in the bedroom, and although the boy’s mother tried to convince him to sleep m another room, he climbed into the lower bunkbed with the thirteen-year-old and immediately began fondling the boy after his hostess left. Father Kelly also asked his companion’s brother, who was sleeping in the upper bunkbed, to join them; he then lay between the two boys fondling their privates and talking to them. On his way out of the house, he gave one of the boys ten dollars.
A few months later, the same two:boys watched in growing apprehension as Father Kelly and their parents played cards late into the night. The priest drank steadily from a bottle of Bacardi rum. When their mother sent them to bed at 4:30 A.M., the boys pushed their bed up against the door the priest couldn’t get into their room. But their sleep was soon disturbed by someone banging on the bedroom door. The frightened boys then heard their mother’s voice telling them to let the priest in.
After Kelly had gotten under the covers with them, one of the boys got up and, putting on his jeans, told the priest he had to use the washroom. When he returned, he left his jeans on and purposely lay on top of the covers because Father Kelly was under the blankets, wide awake and waiting for him. Despite his precautions, the young boy soon felt the priest groping at his privates and telling him, “I don’t care what’s below, it’s what’s in your heart that counts.”
After a short nap, Father Kelly left the house. The boys didn’t tell their parents about the incidents because they were afraid no one would believe them. Judging from the response the RCMP got from adults during their investigation, the boys weren’t far wrong.
“All the people we interviewed in connection with the victims, all parents expressed dismay and disbelief at the allegations,” Sergeant LeBreton later testified.
After interviewing the complainants, their parents, an informant and twenty others who had indirect knowledge of the situation, LeBreton and Urquhart met with top RCMP officials in Corner Brook, including Superintendent William Halloran, to discuss the case. The decision was made to proceed with ten counts of indecent assault. Their commanding officer told the two RCMP officers to treat the priest as they would any other individual – a stark contrast with the instructions given by senior officers of the Newfoundland Constabulary to their men during the 1975 investigation of Mount Cashel Orphanage. As Judge Michael Roche, the Crown prosecutor in the Kelly case, would later testify, his instructions were that police officers not contact him prior to the laying of charges, a right that was jealously guarded in any case by the RCMP.
Constable Urquhart swore an information against Father Kelly alleging ten criminal offences contrary to Section 156: “Every male person who assaults another person with intent to commit buggery or who indecently assaults another male person is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for ten years.”
Believing that the priest was still out of the jurisdiction and fearful that he might not return to Newfoundland if he found out about the police investigation, Urquhart also obtained a warrant for his arrest from Judge Gordon Seabright, which would be needed to apprehend Kelly outside Newfoundland. But while the police were still at the Magistrate’s office laying the charges, LeBreton and Urquhart got a call informing them that Father Kelly had returned unexpectedly from his trip and had driven to the RCMP detachment in Piccadilly, “demanding to know what the police were doing asking questions in his parish. . . .”
The two RCMP officers got in their car and drove to Piccadilly. Corporal Tabor telephoned Father Kelly at his home in De Grau and Sergeant LeBreton then asked the priest to come in to the detachment. Shortly after his arrival at 5:10 P.M., the plainclothes RCMP investigators identified themselves to the priest, showed their badges and placed Kelly under arrest. In explaining the charges against him under Section 156 — seven offences alleged to have occurred in De Grau, and three others in Cape St. George, Sergeant LeBreton cautioned the priest. He further explained that the offences against five different boys ranging in age from thirteen to seventeen took place between August 20, 1977; and April 16, 1979. LeBreton was struck by Kelly’s, reaction.
“His immediate response was something to the effect that ‘Don’t matters such as this have to be cleared through the Department of Justice?’ Or, ‘Has this gone through the Department of Justice?’ . . . I just told him that was incorrect .,. .”
Kelly, who gave the RCMP the impression that he had many influential friends, including Pierre Trudeau, was then searched by the police officers. In fact, Trudeau and Kelly had become acquaintances after the Prime Minister visited the Port au Port Peninsula in the early seventies to open a French school.
“He stated that he didn’t believe that he should be treated in this way . . . just the arrest and search of him. He did not believe he should be treated this way because of his position,” LeBreton later recalled.
Ten minutes after the arrest, the three men began the hour-and-a-half drive from Piccadilly back to Corner Brook, with Urquhart behind the wheel. Corporal Tabor immediately called Superintendent Halloran in Corner Brook and asked what he should do if the media called about Father Kelly. He was told to confirm the fact that an arrest had been made but to decline all further comment until after a court appearance by the accused: The media never called.
Judging from the priest’s rambling soliloquy as they drove down the deserted highway, Sergeant LeBreton had the feeling that he was in for a lengthy interview with Father Kelly when they reached “B” Division. After they arrived, the priest was taken to a green-carpeted interview room with two fluorescent lights set in the ceiling. Although the single door to the room had a window, the blind was pulled, sequestering the three men from the outside world for the next five hours. At 6:50 P.M., the priest was again cautioned, and with Urquhart taking notes, LeBreton conducted a remarkable interview in which Kelly, an Export A cigarette dangling from his left hand, talked about his private life in intimate, and telling, detail.
After some preliminary remarks, LeBreton broached the subject of Kelly’s alleged indecent assaults on boys. “How many incidents?” the priest asked.
“I think you have a better idea of that than us. But you have been charged with ten charges.”
“Oh. My God. I didn’t think it was that.”
After initially declining to talk about the charges, Kelly ventured a tentative opinion on what he might have done.
“I can remember being with people, things could have happened. Nothing that went that far to constitute a crime.”
Asked if he wanted to make a statement, Kelly snuffed out his cigarette, took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. With his elbows on the table, he looked at LeBreton, who was sitting across from him, and answered softly.
“I was at people’s places and laid down for a rest before going home. . . . Was there anyone that cleared me?” “Not that. I can recall.”
Looking nervous for the first time, Father Kelly put his boyish face in his hands and lowered his head to the table. Sergeant LeBreton asked him about putting his hands down boys’ pants.
“I been down this road before with regard to other people in the school. I’ve cleaned up with regard to disease, crabs. . . .” Kelly broke off to rub his eyes and then asked if he could speak to the policeman without the oath. LeBreton gently declined.
“Do you feel you have a liquor problem, Father?”
“No I don’t think I may have before. No, I drank at staff parties.” Pausing. he added hopefully, “I look after the ambulance, operate ”
Soothing but insistent, LeBreton gingerly led Kelly back to the sexual assaults. The priest listened in silence, picking at his fingers, his eyes averted.
“We went in with an open mind. Very disturbing what we came away with,” LeBreton told him.
Kelly was unresponsive, replying in oblique one-word answers. Once again he was holding his head in his hands. LeBreton described the kind of incident that had happened at various homes in De Grau and Cape St. George.
“No sir, that’s not true, not a number of nights. I can count the number of times on one hand.”
The interrogator’s patience had finally been rewarded. For the first time, Father Kelly was acknowledging at least some of the allegations against him
“Oh my God, the fact you’ve been going around my parish asking these questions.”
“The boys came from good homes.”
“How old are they?”
“They’re not being untruthful: All without exception came from good homes.”
At ten minutes after seven, Kelly opened a fresh pack of Export As and balled the cellophane wrapping between his thumb and forefinger. He lit a cigarette and momentarily withdrew into himself. Sensing that the priest might be ready to break, LeBreton reminded Kelly that it would be pretty well impossible to forget such sensitive matters.
“…Your memory couldn’t fail you.”
“No, really, I took people for what they’re worth. I didn’t crawl into bed with every boy in the Cape. If there are a couple of incidents mentioned there, I don’t know.”
Heading towards the net, the fish had suddenly veered away. LeBreton gave him line, before jerking back on the inquisitorial rod.
“We know the people think highly of you. . Do you recall putting your hand down a young boy’s pants and feeling his privates?”
“Well, not that I thought there was something medically wrong — medically, physically. It was drinking maybe,” Kelly answered disjointedly.
LeBreton’s subject was still having trouble facing the consequences of his actions, but he was circling closer. Kelly denied he had done anything criminally wrong, and said that putting his hands down other people’s pants wasn’t his cup of tea. LeBreton tried a different tack.
“This isn’t going to help the church and parish.”
“If my resignation tonight would help the problem I would.”
Kelly’s will to resist was weakening, and he embarked on a rambling description of his life, claiming that he had never had any intention of going to bed and “doing these things.” He talked of the loneliness and hardship of a priest’s life.
“I wouldn’t think I did anything to want to hurt them. . . .”
At 7:20 P.M., LeBreton detailed the numerous occasions when Kelly had sexually abused young boys. The handsome priest leaned forward, visibly upset by the policeman’s words and then sat back in his chair, coy or resigned, LeBreton had no way of knowing.
“Maybe in my sleep or subconscious,” he theorized a little wildly. “Even then I can’t buy the way it’s being put .. I have a blind trust with people and put myself in embarrassing situations.”
LeBreton patiently explained how Kelly had turned down available empty beds in order to sleep with ones occupied by young boys when he visited their homes.
.. If I got in bed and did this I wouldn’t force them to stay.”
“This is what happened,” LeBreton said, laying down one of the statements.
“What does he mean by advances?” the priest asked.
“Hand on a leg could mean a friendly gesture; but handling the privates . . .” LeBreton didn’t finish, and Kelly lit up another cigarette.
“Unless I’m mixed up in my mind, it was someone else. I know the laws, and liquor isn’t an excuse.”
Kelly asked for coffee and told the policemen that he sometimes had so much to drink that members of the RCMP had had to escort him home. LeBreton reminded him that there are degrees of indecent assault.
“If you touch a girl’s breasts it is an indecent assault.”
Kelly puffed on his cigarette and said that several young girls had crushes on him.
“Do you feel you set up a mental block and don’t want to believe you’re doing it?”
“When you know psychology, the thing you don’t do is analyse yourself,” Kelly replied, explaining to LeBreton that he held a degree in the subject.
LeBreton was beginning to wonder if Kelly would ever face the unpleasant facts before him.
“In your time in De Grau, do you remember things that you regretted?”
“I don’t believe things went that far, the fondling of hands in shorts. I may have put my arm around them. I can say I know how far to go.”
“Is there things you have done?”
“Talked about alcohol. I spoke about homosexuality.”
Father Kelly asked to go to the washroom. Whne he came back with his escort, Corporal Urquhart, the RCMP officers raised the issue of a nun who was Kelly’s girlfriend. The emotional barriers shuddered, then broke, and Kelly began to weep. Urquhart brought him a glass of water and he was allowed a phone call to the convent in De Grau where his girlfriend lived.
At 11:00 P.M. Father Kelly began his statement in his own hand. Twenty minutes later he signed the document in which he admitted to the crimes with which he’d been charged, and, to a degree, tried to rationalize them.
Regarding the complaints I have heard, I can say in some cases I realize that I have been at fault, however there was no deliberate attempt to hurt any person or to break any laws of church or state. I do not think I forced any person at any time . . . I have been involved with the people named. . . . In nearly all cases there was no extreme ‘involv[e]ment. I have worked very hard in Cape St. George during the past 6 years. I guess I was not fully conscious of the fact that I had broken the law. I have no previous involvement with the courts insofar as prosecutions are concerned. I think I was overly emotionally involved with my parishioners and work and this may have led to my becoming too involved with them.
Ronald H. Kelly
The two RCMP officers signed Kelly’s statement and he left the RCMP detachment at 12:15 A.M. in the company of another priest, Father William Boone. Urquhart noted in his account of the interview that Father Kelly admitted, under caution that anything he said could be used against him, that the names the police had presented to him accounted for most of the boys he’d been involved with, though there may have been a few more. Kelly also stated that there was a “young guy” the police hadn’t mentioned with whom he “went further” than with the other boys. Before leaving the detachment, Kelly said that he intended to get things over with as soon as possible, plead guilty and do some soul searching about his life.
The next day, in front of the brawny and bombastic figure of Magistrate Gordon Seabright, another echo of Mount Cashel would float through the strange proceedings involving the Catholic priest.
Just after 9 P.m. on the same evening the RCMP were interviewing Father Kelly, Michael Roche, the lone Crown prosecutor on the west coast of Newfoundland, received a call from RCMP Superintendent William Halloran. Halloran advised Roche that there was a Roman Catholic priest in custody in Corner Brook named Father Ronald Kelly, who had been arrested earlier that day on sex-related charges. The RCMP officer explained that Father Kelly was going to be released later that night into the custody of Bishop Richard McGrath of the Diocese of St. George’s and would be spending the night at the Palace on Hammond Drive in Corner Brook. Halloran wanted to know if Roche would be available the following morning to prosecute the case. Roche, whose brother was a priest and who had been educated by the Christian Brothers, confirmed that he could schedule the matter and arranged to meet the arresting officers the following morning for a briefing.
On Friday, May 11, 1979 the two RCMP officers showed up at Roche’s seventh-floor office suite in the Sir Richard Squires Building, which housed the Magistrate’s Court, the District Court, the Supreme Court, and the west coast office of the Premier of Newfoundland. LeBreton and Urquhart briefed Roche on the charges and informed him that, as far as they knew, Father Kelly planned to enter a guilty plea.
“I was appalled. Particularly I was struck . . . by the possible element of collusion between the parents of the boys and Father Kelly,” he later testified.
Uncertain about what the Crown’s position on sentencing should be, Roche called the senior Crown attorney for the Eastern region, Robert Hyslop, to get some authorities.
“I felt strongly at the time that obviously a period of incarceration was in order, but I had absolutely no idea of what the possible range of sentence might have been,” he recalled.
Hyslop, who promised to send the appropriate authorities out on the first available flight from St. John’s the next morning, conveyed some rough guidelines to Roche over the telephone: most lenient, six months; average, two years. Roche then chatted briefly with counsel for the defence, Michael Monaghan and Gerard Martin, who had been retained by Bishop McGrath after a brief meeting at the Palace earlier that morning. Kelly’s lawyers confirmed the RCMP’s information that their client would be entering a guilty plea and that the defence was prepared to get into a sentencing hearing sometime that afternoon.
After a series of delays, the case was set to proceed at four o’clock in Courtroom 2, in front of Magistrate Gordon Seabright. Seabright, a swashbuckling and legendary figure in outport Newfoundland, was a product of Newfoundland’s unusual method of dealing with the fact that, until very recently, few people practised law outside the city of St. John’s. To deal with judicial matters in the rural districts of the province, a system of magistrates was devised that placed para-legals like Seabright on the bench, even though they didn’t have law degrees. (On December 14, 1979, Magistrates were renamed Provincial Court Judges, in spite of the fact that the old Magistrate’s Courts had been replaced by Provincial Courts on July 15, 1974.)
Seabright, who had also been a welfare officer and a teacher went to the bench in 1964, eventually taking advantage of a program that sent him to law school between 1975 and 1978 at the province’s expense. At the time of the Father Kelly trial, the big man who entered a room like a bull moose breaking through the alders had recently spent a month articling with the Corner Brook firm of Wells, Monaghan, Seaborn, Marshall and Roberts. Michael Monaghan had been his principal. During his next two annual holiday periods, in 1980 and 1981, Seabright would continue his articling with Monaghan and, if the other parties didn’t object, continue to preside over cases in which Monaghan was involved.
At 4:20 P.M., Roche and the two RCMP investigators were still waiting in Courtroom 2 for the other parties to arrive. When Magistrate Seabright appeared, he told Roche that there was a telephone call for him outside. The Crown prosecutor took the call in the vacant office of Judge Arthur Cramm and was astonished to find the Director of Public Prosecutions (D.P.P.), John Kelly, on the other end of the line.
“His first question to me, I can’t possibly forget this, was `What is going on out in Corner Brook?’ I explained to Mr. Kelly that there was a Roman Catholic clergyman charged with ten counts of Section 156. I explained to him the circumstances of the case. And I then asked Mr. Kelly why he had phoned me, because I was obviously a little concerned at that time that there might have been some political interference.”
The astonished prosecutor was then informed that the defence lawyers had been trying to reach the. Attorney-General of Newfoundland, T. Alex Hickman, to get the charges against Father Kelly withdrawn. Astonished that Monaghan and Martin had undertaken such action without giving the Crown prosecutor the slightest inkling of what they planned to do, Roche explained that the charges were too serious to simply drop. Kelly agreed and gave his official consent to proceed with the matter.
On Monday, May 14, Monaghan would in fact speak with Newfoundland’s Attorney-General about the disposition of the Kelly case. In what Alex Hickman would later describe as both a “very professional” but nonetheless unusual call, Monaghan asked Hickman to review the decision by John Kelly and prosecutor Roche to proceed against Father Kelly rather than grant an unconditional discharge in exchange for a promise by the church to put the priest in psychiatric care in another province. Monaghan made it clear he was acting • on the instructions of his client, Bishop McGrath. Hickman declined.
Before hanging up, though, Monaghan made reference to Mount Cashel or the Brothers, an allusion, that meant nothing to the Justice Minister. When he subsequently asked John Kelly about the case, Hickman was assured that it had been properly handled by the Deputy Minister of the day, Vincent McCarthy. Moreover, Hickman knew that Mount Cashel was one of the cases that was being examined at the Soper Inquiry, so if there had been any wrongdoing by the Justice Department, Judge Lloyd Soper would be dealing with it — or so Alex Hickman thought.
(Years later, Monaghan would claim that his partner, Gerard Martin, had made the call to Newfoundland’s Justice Minister while he listened in.)
After Roche finished speaking with John Kelly, he took the elevator to the sixth floor of the Sir Richard Squires Building and found the two defence lawyers in the robing room, which, coincidentally, was equipped with a telephone. Without mentioning his conversation with John Kelly,. Roche told them that he had been waiting for them downstairs on a matter that was already half an hour late in starting. They followed the prosecutor down to Courtroom 2 where the case proceeded in front of Magistrate Seabright, Father Kelly, the two defence lawyers, the two investigators, Roche, the court reporter and the sole member of the public to witness the trial, Father William Boone.
To protect the identities of the youthful victims, the case was heard in camera. Father Kelly elected trial by magistrate without a jury and entered a guilty plea to each of the ten charges against him. Sergeant LeBreton and prosecutor Roche presented the facts of the case, including Father Kelly’s signed statement. After LeBreton finished his summary, Magistrate Seabright questioned him about the condition of Father Kelly’s victims.
“When he was finished I turned to him and I questioned him very thoroughly on what the effect was, if any, on these children. . . . Was there any such thing as bedwetting? Was there any such thing as inverted behaviour? Was there any such thing as people having to go to psychiatrists or anything along that line? And he assured me that nothing of that nature had happened,” former Magistrate Seabright would later testify.
Forty-five minutes after the matter began, it was over. Roche informed the court that he had been in touch with St. John’s and arrangements were being made to have sentencing precedents flown out to him the next morning. Since he was not in a position to make final submissions on sentence, he requested an adjournment until the following week — a motion that was vehemently opposed by one of Kelly’s lawyers.
“The reason was that they, or Mr. Monaghan I should say more specifically, was prepared to make his final sentencing submissions at that time, and as well, he advised the court that Father Kelly had plane reservations to leave Stephenville airport on the afternoon of Saturday, May 12, at approximately 1:30 in the afternoon.”
Roche was shocked. Monaghan’s stated reason for proceeding immediately on sentencing took for granted that Father Kelly would be going somewhere other than jail. The defence counsel explained that arrangements had already been made for Kelly to fly to Ontario and receive psychiatric help at Southdown — a replay of the drill that had forced Det. Robert Hillier to rush his interviews with Brothers English and Ralph during the 1975 Mount Cashel investigation.
Magistrate Seabright then inquired when Roche would next be available for court and was told the afternoon of Wednesday, May 16. Not satisfied with that date, the Judge asked Roche where he would be on Monday, May 14. Roche replied that he was prosecuting a case in District Court before Judge Lloyd Soper. When Seabright further asked the prosecutor what he was doing on Tuesday, May 15, Roche explained that he had a case set down for 10:00 A.M. in Woody Point, 115 kilometres north of Corner Brook. Seabright inquired how long it would take the prosecutor to drive from Corner Brook to Woody Point. When Roche answered an hour and a quarter, Magistrate Seabright ruled that the sentencing hearing would be held on May 15 at 8:00 A.M., a highly unusual time to convene a judicial proceeding, but one at which the absence of the press would virtually be guaranteed.
“I was floored by that,” Roche later testified. “I mean, I thought it was an eminently reasonable request to ask that it be set over until the following Wednesday afternoon, a mere day and a half difference. I cannot for the life of me conceive why it had to be set for that particular date at that time. . . .”
Roche’s sense of uneasiness with the case didn’t diminish as the day wore on. Over the lunch period, his secretary, Helen O’Brien, had received a call from a man who wanted to speak to Roche but who wouldn’t leave his name. Nevertheless, she was able to tell her boss who the caller was because of his very familiar voice — her parish priest, Father William Boone, whose sermons she faithfully took in every Sunday. The Crown prosecutor couldn’t help wondering if the call had been made to subtly influence his conduct in the Kelly case. As Roche left the courthouse after the priest’s trial, he was approached by Father Boone near the elevators. After exchanging pleasantries, Roche looked straight at Boone and asked him a single question.
“Father, why did you try, to telephone me today?” The priest flushed and began to stammer.
“But, but, but, I did not leave my name.” Roche smiled at the befuddled priest until his red face vanished behind the closing elevator doors. (Ironically, the priest who sat through the Kelly trial, Father William Boone would himself be charged ten years later with gross indecency involving a young male.)
But more was on the way to convince Roche that the Kelly case was not being handled the way it should be. After dropping off his files at the office, the lawyer went to the Glynmill Inn for a drink. Shortly after he arrived, Magistrate Gordon Seabright, Michael Monaghan, and Gerard Martin entered the bar together to have a drink. Without finishing his beer, Roche left the hotel immediately.
“I obviously was upset by the way things were unfolding. . . . I felt that the appearance of justice was being compromised.”
On Tuesday, May 15, at the unusual hour of 8:00 A.M. the sentencing hearing of Father Ronald Kelly began in front of Magistrate Seabright. Present were exactly the same people who had been at the priest’s trial four days earlier. For at least one of the participants, Cpl. Murray Urquhart, the whole proceeding took place in an atmosphere suggesting that it was a foregone conclusion that Father Kelly would not be going to jail.
“I got the distinct impression that the plans had been made. And that he, if he walked out of that courtroom, that be would be catching the next flight out. My impression of it was that .. . the disposition had been made up before court was . . . to commence. . . . There was not going to be a jail term and he was to be leaving the area and going to Toronto and going to Southdown.” That impression was reinforced by the exchanges that were taking place between Father Boone, defence counsel and Magistrate Seabright.
Father Boone testified to the prodigious amount of work Father Kelly had done in his parish and entered his curriculum vitae into evidence. Father Boone also produced a telex from Southdown confirming that arrangements had been made for Father Kelly to become an in-patient of the treatment centre. The priest told the court that Kelly would be on his way to Southdown later that same afternoon — a statement that vexed Michael Roche, based as it was on the cavalier assumption that. Father Kelly would not in fact be incarcerated.
Just the day before, Roche had prosecuted the case of Regina v. Piercey in which a fifty-three-year-old man had pleaded guilty to a charge of indecently assaulting a seven-year-old girl. Although it was a first offence, and the crime had been committed under the influence of alcohol, the married man with eight children was sentenced to three months in jail, plus two years’ probation. The judge’s sentencing notes explained the rationale: “Although the accused has shown remorse and has already punished himself emotionally, a term of imprisonment was necessary as deterr[e]nt to the accused.” Roche fully intended to use the Piercey case as a precedent in his own sentencing submission on Father Kelly.
After Father Boone had finished, Michael Monaghan made his sentencing submission for the defence, in which he accused Michael Roche of an abuse of prosecutorial power for allowing the charges to proceed. According to Roche, the defence attorney also referred to a precedent which had been set in a 1975 case, where three Irish Christian Brothers had left the province to receive psychiatric treatment in lieu of having sexual assault charges laid against them.
“There was a clear reference to 1975, St. John’s, three Irish Christian Brothers, and no charges being laid and their being shipped out of the province . . . I am absolutely 100 per cent certain,” Roche would later tell a public inquiry into the Mount Cashel affair. (Although there is no definitive evidence to explain Roche’s recollection of the mention of three Brothers having been sent out of the province, Brother Douglas Kenny had, in fact, left Newfoundland for his tertianship in Rome in early 1976. Like English and Ralph, Brother Kenny was also accused of sexual abuse in Detective Hillier’s 1975 police report into the Mount Cashel affair.)
What was so fascinating about Monaghan’s alleged reference to Mount Cashel during the Kelly case was that it came a full day before Judge Lloyd Soper released Sgt. Arthur Pike’s in camera testimony from the Soper Inquiry —the first time the orphanage scandal was ever put on the public record. The question was, where had Father Kelly’s lawyers learned about the details of a case so secret that even the Justice Minister of the day said he was unaware of it? If it was from the man who had hired them, Richard McGrath, the Bishop was taking a dangerously intrusive step into the justice system by getting Father Kelly’s lawyers to press the 1975 deal as any kind of legal precedent.
Unknown to Michael Roche, Bishop McGrath had already taken an even bigger step on Saturday, May 12, three days before Father Kelly’s sentencing hearing. On. Friday night, the Bishop had called Magistrate Gordon Seabright at home, leaving a message with the absent judge’s wife that he would call back. At 11:30 the next morning he called again and told the judge he wanted to speak to him. Seabright invited McGrath to his house, where amongst other things, the Bishop asked the judge about the range of sentencing available to him in the Kelly case. Seabright explained that his options ranged from unconditional discharge to ten years’ imprisonment. Seabright’s eminent guest was invited to stay for lunch and the men shared a bowl of, pea soup at the kitchen table; Bishop McGrath left a few hours later.
Angered by Monaghan’s remarks in court, Roche made his own submission on sentence, reading from notes written on a pad entitled “Dumb Things I Gotta Do,” a present from his secretary. Noting that there was absolutely no pre-sentence report filed before the court other than Father Kelly’s curriculum vitae, Roche described the Crown’s position as both “ethical and adversarial.” He rejected arguments by counsel for the defence that the Roman Catholic church was in any way on trial in the Kelly case.
“I further went on to state that Father Kelly first and foremost was a man, and was standing there as a man accused of having committed criminal offences.”
Roche also expressed in open court his concern that Father Kelly was getting preferential treatment – late appearances” one day, early ones the next. His remarks prompted Magistrate Seabright to declare: “If there is any thought that this matter was done in a secret way I would dispel them completely.”
On the main point at issue, Roche told the court that sentencing precedents indicated that even for first offenders a period of incarceration was warranted. For example, in 1974 a corrections officer at a boys’ home had received a year in jail on appeal for similar offences. In asking for a jail sentence for Father Kelly, the Crown prosecutor cited individual and general deterrence, protection of the public and the seriousness of the offences. He stressed the fact that the boys involved had been frightened to report Father’ Kelly’s sexual assaults because of his vaunted position in their community.
“Most importantly, I urged Magistrate Seabright that it is a basic value that confidence of the public in the administration of criminal justice be maintained. To treat a sexual offender, albeit a first offender, with excessive leniency would increase the risk that such confidence may be eroded and the criminal justice system be brought into disrepute.”
In the case of Father Kelly, Roche’s review of the precedents indicated that a jail sentence of three months to two years was in order.
Without an adjournment, Magistrate Seabright dealt immediately with Father Kelly straight from the bench, ordering a suspended sentence on all ten counts against him and a period of probation of two years. In addition, Kelly had to enter Southdown “until results were satisfactory.” All reports from the institution were to be sent to that well-known medical expert, Magistrate Gordon Seabright. Before adjourning the court, Seabright gave a short statement from the bench indicating that he didn’t agree with incarceration and emphasizing the need for rehabilitation. Ten years later, this same man, hearing the case of Father James Corrigan, would describe gross indecency and sexual assault as “the worst crimes against children that can be committed.” In the intervening decade, Seabright’s judicial vision had clearly evolved.
Roche hurriedly left the courtroom to make the hour drive to his next case at Woody Point, feeling strongly that the case had to be appealed. When he later learned about the luncheon meeting between Magistrate Seabright and Bishop McGrath that preceded Father Kelly’s sentencing hearing, he was convinced that he could win it.
He was wrong.
The next unusual step in the Father Kelly case was taken immediately after the trial.
Magistrate Gordon Seabright sent a letter to Southdown informing authorities there that he would be personally monitoring the probation progress of the priest, normally the role of a probation officer. In asking for copies of progress reports on Father Kelly, Magistrate Seabright made his opinion of what was wrong with the priest very plain.
“The problem is a combination of liquor, loneliness and celibacy. One can see that there is a problem which needs to be treated. I felt that no useful purpose would be served by a period of incarceration if the process of rehabilitation is to be given a chance to work.”
Despite the fact that Magistrate Seabright specified that he wanted to personally monitor Father Kelly’s progress, the first report from the Catholic-run treatment centre would be sent to Bishop McGrath at the Palace.
On May 31, 1979, Michael Roche filed a Notice of Application to appeal the sentence in the Father Kelly case. Early the next morning, Corporal Urquhart of the RCMP served the notice of appeal on Judge Seabright before he went into court. The policeman later recalled part of their conversation.
“At the time of the serving . . . he had mentioned to me that there had been a petition from the community of Cape St. George and that area, De Grau, with regard to wanting Father Kelly returned by the church to that parish. And my response at that time was the fact that, yes, I could understand that because he was highly thought of. He did a lot of community work. He was well known. But that it was also obvious that the community at large did not know of the crimes he had committed. And I don’t believe that Judge Seabright responded to that.”
In the two weeks after Father Kelly’s trial, complaints began to trickle in about the way that Magistrate Seabright had handled the case, from his pea-soup confab with Bishop McGrath to the 8 A.M. sentencing hearing. In a June 27 letter to Magistrate Seabright, the Chief Magistrate of the Provincial Court, Cyril Goodyear, asked for a full accounting of the Father Kelly trial, including the meeting with Bishop McGrath. In his return letter, Magistrate Seabright confirmed the facts that had come to the attention of the Chief Magistrate, ending the letter with “I write this to you without excuse or explanation so, that you can get the total picture.”
Goodyear was furious.
“I had some very serious concerns about the fact that while the matter was before him, somebody representing the church and the superior of the defendant had come to visit him with a view to discussing the matter.”
Goodyear considered taking the matter before the Judicial Council, an intention, he expressed in writing to Magistrate Seabright on August 6, 1979. But when he checked at the Department of Justice, he discovered that government had let some of the appointments to the body lapse, leaving the Judicial Council without a quorum. No further action was taken against Magistrate Seabright, who felt he had done nothing wrong in meeting with Bishop McGrath and discussing the sentencing aspect of the Kelly case.
Ten years later, retired Judge Seabright would remain unrepentant when he recounted how he had responded to the Chief Magistrate.
“I said fine. You may not have done it. But I can tell you now I did no wrong, and if the opportunity came, I’d probably do it again.”
After receiving Roche’s case report, the Director of Public Prosecutions, John Kelly, asked senior Crown prosecutor Robert Hyslop to review the file to see if he thought the sentence should be appealed, a move he quickly recommended. As he would later explain at the Hughes Inquiry, “I made that decision on the basis of the police report involving the allegations and obviously what I had been told had been brought before the court. . . . It was what I considered to be a very lenient sentence, extraordinarily so for the circumstances of which I was aware.”
But by mid-summer the pending appeal of the Father Kelly case was delayed by John Kelly’s resignation as Director of Public Prosecutions and two medical reports from Southdown that arrived at the Justice Department. The clear intention of the reports, as Justice officials quickly surmised, was to quash the Crown’s appeal by showing what good progress the fallen priest had been making. Once a permanent replacement for John Kelly was found, it was hoped that he would see things differently than his predecessor, a hope that the report from Father Canice Connors, the Executive Director of Southdown, was designed to encourage.
. . . The medical assessment indicates that it is no small wonder, given the combinations of alcohol and Valium consumed over a period of years, that he survived to receive treatment. . . . The entire staff is convinced that he has achieved adequate insight into himself and has begun to develop a lifestyle that augurs well for a problem free future…In the past two weeks, at the suggestion of the staff, he has requested a temporary pastoral assignment from Bishop Lacey, the Personnel Director for the Archdiocese of Toronto. Beginning on 1st of October he will take up residence with Bishop Lacey and will continue as an out-patient under the care of George Freemesser, M.D., a priest-psychiatrist on the staff at Southdown. . . . The professional staff at Southdown is comfortable that Ronald Kelly’s progress has verified the prudence and wisdom of your decision to place him here on probation. We are confident here that with Fr. Kelly’s co-operation we have uncovered the fundamental causes of his problems and that he is well on his way to complete recovery.
Cheerleading to one side, the bottom line was clear — four and a half months after being admitted to a treatment centre, a priest who pleaded guilty to ten counts of sexual assault was being reassigned to active duty.
Frustrated by the delays on the Kelly appeal while the new D.P.P., Cyril Goodyear, studied the case and the Southdown reports, Michael Roche finally wrote to the Justice Department to bring the matter to a head. In a subsequent Friday afternoon telephone call with Goodyear, Roche learned of Magistrate Seabright’s “infamous pea-soup” letter of July 4. Roche felt strongly that it should be brought to the attention of the Appeal Court should the case proceed. Goodyear said he would consider releasing a copy of the letter to Roche and told him to be in his Corner Brook office at 8 A.M. Monday morning. At that time the prosecutor would be given “the green light or the red light.”
Roche spent a “nerve-wracking” weekend, wondering what the decision would be. That Sunday night, after discussing the ethical dilemma he found himself in with two lawyer friends, he came to a momentous decision.
“I resolved that Sunday night that, if I were to be given a red light … I had no honourable recourse but to immediately resign the following day, Monday, from the Department of Justice and call a press conference.”
When the call came in from St. John’s first thing Monday morning, Cyril Goodyear uttered but two words: “green light.” In giving his written blessing to the appeal a few days later, the new D.P.P. made clear what he thought of the post-sentencing reports from Southdown.
“I have reviewed the documents which you forwarded in this matter. It is obvious that your decision to appeal sentence in these cases was completely objective, based on the law, and not influenced by any other consideration. Please proceed with it.
“The reports from Southdown, which are being circulated widely, appear to have an obvious intent. It should be noted that Southdown is not an independently operated clinic.”
The appeal of sentence in the Father Kelly case was set down for November 21, but postponed at the request of the Crown until November 30. In the interim, Roche had sent a copy of his notice motion to Kelly’s lawyers, including a personal affidavit outlining Magistrate Seabright’s luncheon with Bishop McGrath before the sentencing hearing. The agitated lawyers showed up at Roche’s office in Corner Brook before the hearing of the appeal, upset that he was jeopardizing Seabright’s career.
“Their position was quite simply, ‘How in the Christ, Roche, can you do this, because a man’s job is at risk? Judge Seabright, if it ever comes out, is going to lose his job.’ And my attitude, my response to them was . . . ‘He should have exercised better judgment. When receiving that call on May 12, he should, have politely declined such a request to meet. . .’”
Monaghan and Martin needn’t have worried about Gordon Seabright’s judicial future. When Michael Roche arrived in court at 10:30 on the morning of November 30, 1979, to argue the appeal on sentence of the Father Kelly case, the learned Justices ordered all the lawyers into chambers. All three judges — Mr. Justice Robert Furlong, Mr. Justice James Gushue and Mr. Justice Herbert Morgan — “vehemently” impressed upon Roche that they refused to hear his application as set out in the notice of motion dated on November 21, which included the affidavit outlining Magistrate Seabright’s out-of-court discussions with an interested party to the proceedings in the lower court, namely Bishop McGrath. Roche argued in chambers that the appearance, at least, of justice being done in the case had been jeopardized by the pre-sentencing luncheon.
“They specifically referred to that May 12 meeting and said that meeting was of no significance or relevancy whatsoever with respect to the fitness of the sentence being appealed from.”
The appeal itself lasted a little over an hour. The three judges listened in stony silence as Roche made the argument that the trend in courts in Newfoundland and other provinces was to provide jail terms when faced with serious crimes of a sexual nature. His arguments were received in “an aura of hostility,” as he would later describe it.
“They were clearly, clearly unreceptive to the Crown’s position. I can recall one specific comment made as I sat down after going through the experience. The Chief Justice leaned over to Mr. Justice James Gushue, and in a loud whisper audible to everybody in the courtroom, he said, ‘Do we even need to hear from Monaghan?’
After defence counsel gave a brief presentation, two post-sentence reports which closely followed the information laid out in the Southdown reports were received.
“There was no mention of pedophilia, absolutely none in the post-sentence reports. They just basically said this man had problems, exacerbated by drink and drugs. What kind of mental illness to this day I’m at a loss to describe,” Roche later recounted.
After retiring for fifteen minutes, Newfoundland’s Supreme Court of Appeal upheld Magistrate Seabright’s suspended sentence for Father Kelly. In his judgment, Mr. Justice James Gushue said Father Kelly’s offences were “serious” and “this factor cannot be minimized,” but proceeded to do just that. He noted that Father Kelly was “no criminal in the commonly understood meaning of the word, but in fact suffers from a type of mental illness aggravated by drink and drugs which could very well respond to proper treatment.
“To confine him to prison at this stage is not going to cure this illness, or even begin to do so. In fact, it would most likely have a decidedly adverse affect on him….The respondent’s aberrations are undoubtedly an illness, so the public is also better served by his being placed in a curative institution, subject to strict supervision as was ordered by the magistrate.”
After his brief stint at Southdown, Father Kelly was afterwards re-assigned to the Archdiocese of Toronto, where he was eventually appointed Vice Chancellor of Temporal Affairs, one of the most senior positions around Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter. No one outside the administrative hierarchy in his new parish was informed of Father Kelly’s criminal record in Newfoundland. As for his former parishioners in Cape St George, seven hundred of them, many of whom still didn’t know what had happened to the popular cleric, signed a petition asking that Father Kelly be returned to the area as parish priest. Despite more than a few close encounters with the justice system, the Catholic Church and the Christian Brothers had gotten out of the seventies in Newfoundland with barely a scratch.
The next decade would not prove as lucky.