The Edmonton Journal
16 May 2014
Photograph by: Shaughn Butts , Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON – A once-beloved Edmonton priest who was the subject of multiple complaints of sexual impropriety with women in his parish has been charged with multiple counts of sexual assault for alleged offences dating back nearly 30 years.
Albert Laisnez, 76, has been charged with three counts of sexual assault and three counts of gross indecency, a provision of the Criminal Code which was in existence until the late 1980s. The charges, which were laid earlier this year, relate to alleged incidents in 1986 and 1987 involving a single adult complainant.
The allegations have not been proven in court. A preliminary hearing is slated to take place in Sherwood Park on Dec. 11.
Lorraine Turchansky, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, said Laisnez served at several parishes in Alberta between the 1970s and 1996, when he was sent to a treatment facility for priests after publicly admitting to misconduct with adult women. She said he has not been an active priest since around that time.
Laisnez was part of a 1997 Journal investigation into how the Edmonton archdiocese was dealing with sexual misconduct by priests, and he was identified then as having a long history of complaints of sexual and inappropriate behaviour with adult women, in particular “extended hugging.”
According to the Journal stories at that time, Laisnez began working at Edmonton’s St. Agnes parish in 1991, replacing a priest who had pled guilty to a charge of indecent assault in relation to a teenage boy.
Then in his mid-50s, Laisnez was initially seen in the parish as a “gift from God,” the story said, a dynamic man known for a caring manner and wonderful sermons.
But Laisnez also had a history of complaints from women in parishes where he’d worked in Hinton, Sherwood Park and elsewhere in Edmonton, and new complaints surfaced at St. Agnes as well. The situation came to a head in 1996, when a woman sent letters outlining the allegations to 83 members of the parish. The letters were sent to members of sex abuse study groups that had been started by Laisnez.
Laisnez responded by making a public statement in church saying he was a sinner, and admitting to excessive hugging and kissing with adult women in the congregation. Turchansky was among those in the church during Laisnez’ statement.
“I do remember Father Laisnez making his statement,” she said. “I remember how shocked we were.”
Speaking to the Journal in 1997, then-archbishop Joseph MacNeil said he knew Laisnez had “some problems,” but characterized them as “impropriety that didn’t seem all that serious.”
Laisnez later worked at a parish in Churchill, Man., for a short period. Turchansky said Laisnez was formally suspended from ministry in 1996.
The allegations raised publicly by the Journal in 1997 prompted a strong response from the church community. Letters written to the paper at the time praised the priest as kind, compassionate and hard-working. One said: “No book could contain enough pages to print all the good deeds, help and services” Laisnez had performed. Another speculated: “Perhaps it is too much to ask for a man of his vitality and passion to maintain an oath of celibacy in these overtly sexual times.”
Others put the blame on the women making allegations against the priest, some of whom were married and belonged to his congregation.
“Instead of pointing fingers at the priest and our bishop, maybe we should point them at these Jezebels in various parishes who took advantage of his weakness for their own gratification,” one woman wrote in a letter to the editor.
The Journal spoke to a woman Friday who said she took her own allegations against Laisnez to RCMP in the 1990s, but charges were never laid. She said she doesn’t know if charges will be laid now in relation to her case. The Journal has chosen not to identify her.
“He ravaged my life,” she said.
The woman said she’s been told Laisnez is extremely ill in a nursing home, and likely won’t live to see the case proceed through the court. Still, she said she considers the charges “a victory.”
“It’s a huge victory for him to have been charged and for him to have to appear where the church cannot protect him,” she said.
With files from Ryan Cormier