The Eganville Leader
18 September 2013
By Debbi Christinck
Pembroke — The Crown is asking for Father Dan Miller to spend nine months behind bars for sexually molesting boys in incidents that date back 35 to 40 years ago.
The victims, who ranged in age from nine to 13 at the time of the incidents, were fondled by the priest and many of the assaults occurred while they were visiting the priest and sleeping in the home of Father Miller’s mother in Renfrew. The priest pled guilty to five charges of indecent assault in June and sentencing proceedings began in a Pembroke court on Tuesday. The courtroom was full of the victims, their families and many supporters. One supporter pointed out these men should not be referred to as victims, but rather survivors of sexual abuse.
Many of the victims are from the Deep River area and many supporters were in court from that community.
The tall, thin priest, wearing a grey shirt and not sporting a clerical collar, remained seemingly impassive throughout the proceedings, even while the victims and families of those he abused presented emotional victim impact statements. He was accompanied to the court by Msgr. Douglas Bridge and Father Peter Proulx of the Pembroke Diocese. Father Miller did not speak during the court proceedings, only addressing a few comments through his lawyer.
Crown Attorney Jason Nicol said jail is clearly called for in this case, arguing this is not a case that calls for a conditional sentence. The Crown told Justice Timothy Ray a sentence of between seven and nine months in jail is called for.
“It is not harsh or punitive,” he said. “It’s well in the range.”
Justice Ray asked for a breakdown of the sentence, pointing out there were five victims and if there is no connection between the incidents then the sentence should be consecutive and not concurrent. He said seven to nine months, which Mr. Nicol originally suggested, seemed low for the number of victims.
Following a break, Mr. Nichol said he would suggest four months for one victim, who suffered repeated assaults and 40 days for each of the other victims, which would total nine months. Justice Ray said he would need time to deliberate over all the submissions from both Mr. Nicol and defence attorney Robert Carew of Ottawa before rendering his sentence in the case. A new date for sentencing was set for November when the judge is again in Pembroke.
Father Miller has not functioned as an active priest in the Diocese of Pembroke since 1999 when then Bishop Brendan O’Brien was made aware of the priest having assaulted young boys 20 years earlier. He is still a priest in the diocese, but has not been associated with a parish in the last 14 years. He was charged in early 2012 with gross indecency and indecent assault against a male following a police investigation. He was arrested in late February 2012.
By the time the court proceedings began, there were 12 charges against him in relation to six victims. Father Miller pled guilty to five charges associated with molesting five young boys. The Crown did not proceed with charges from the sixth complainant.
Father Miller was ordained in 1969 and the incidents occurred between 1969 and 1980. There is a publication ban on the name of the victims, but most of the victims were from the Deep River area and one assault occurred while visiting the church of Our Lady of Nativity in Pikwakanagan. In the various instances, Father Miller would fondle the penis of the young boys.
Asking For Jail Time
In his submissions on the court on sentencing, Mr. Nicol said the only reasonable sentence is jail time for the priest, but the question is for how long. He said the court can take into account mitigating circumstances, including the fact the priest pled guilty to the charge. However, Mr. Nicol noted the guilty plea was less than timely and only after the victims had been forced to testify in court and be cross-examined.
The priest has no prior criminal record and co-operated “to a certain degree” in the court proceedings, he added.
“It is an open question if Mr. Miller demonstrated insight into what he did,” Mr. Nicol said.
The priest will not admit his actions were pre-meditated and did not view them as harmful according to court reports, he said. Instead, the priest insisted it was tickling with no sexual overtones in studies done by the court and prior counselling, he said. Multiple times he told police the incidents had not been sexual, Mr. Nicol said.
“This is ridiculous,” the Crown said. “How can someone engage in this behaviour and not recognize the inappropriateness and the clear sexual nature of what he is doing?”
The shame and embarrassment the priest has suffered is a mitigating fact in the sentencing, he said.
“He has been brought low, shamed and embarrassed by what he did,” he said.
At the same time, the “egregious breach of trust” on the young boys is an aggravating fact.
“The parents had complete trust and faith in him as a priest,” the Crown said.
The impact on the men has been devastating, he said.
“The victim impact statements make the point there is no such ting as minor sexual abuse of a child,” Mr. Nicol said.
The fact that the boys were so young and there were multiple victims is another aggravating factor, he said. The Crown also maintains the priest “groomed” the young boys by inviting them on trips and giving them presents. The boys were from poor homes, where there was often an absentee father figure, and Father Miller took advantage of this.
Defence Asks For House Arrest
Mr. Carew, in his submissions on sentencing, said his client is a good candidate for community supervision for part or all of his sentence. He said most of the incidents were isolated incidents and he disputed the idea of the priest “grooming” the boys for abuse.
“There was no physical violence per say,” he added.
Judge Ray interrupted, stating sexual assault on a child is an act of violence in itself.
Mr. Carew added his client is at low risk of recidivism and it has been 35 years since the last allegation against him. He asked for the priest to receive credit for past programs at Southdown Institute, a facility for priests with problems including alcoholism and those who have abused minors. Father Miller was there in 1999 and 2000 following the Diocese of Pembroke being made aware of his abusing boys in Deep River.
“He did this on his own to address the problem,” his lawyer said. “There was no court order.”
However, Mr. Nicol was quick to point out reports from the centre were delivered to Diocese of Pembroke Bishop O’Brien, showing the diocese had been the instigator in the priest going to the treatment centre. Father Miller did tell the court through his lawyer the treatment centre was “suggested by superiors in the Diocese.”
A binder with multiple letters of reference for the priest was presented to the court by Mr. Carew.
“He has been judged on the worst moment of his life,” he said. “Over the last 40 years he has done a lot of positive; that is evidenced by the large number of letters.”
Mr. Carew said his client has already suffered since he, in essence, lost his job in 1999, not being allowed to serve as a priest again with only “very limited involvement” in the church since. Some reports stated Father Miller did serve the Grey Sisters following 1999. The mother of one of the victims, who Mr. Carew referred to as “a very vindictive person”, made sure he would never work again as a priest, the defence lawyer said.
Mr. Carew also pointed out there had been no penetration involved in this case.
Father Miller remains free until the sentencing is delivered on November 28 in Pembroke Court at 9:30.
Editor’s note: Seven victim impact statements were presented in court during the proceedings. For full coverage of the victim impact statements, see next week’s Leader.