North Renfrew Times.com
22 October 2014
by Terry Myers
Father Michael Daniel Miller, 70, a Catholic priest who served in Deep River in the 1970s, will return to Pembroke court December 3 to face the verdict on charges of child sexual abuse.
Miller appeared in Pembroke court last week before Superior Court Justice Martin James on charges of gross indecency and indecent assault on a male.
Miller was previously convicted and sentenced to nine months in prison last year on five counts of indecent assault on a male.
Three of those charges involved victims who had served as altar boys at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church and whose families had welcomed him into their Deep River homes.
The current charges were laid following last year’s court proceedings, after another Deep River man came forward to claim that he also was a victim of sexual abuse at Miller’s hands in the early 70’s.
The man, “Joseph,” now in his 50’s, testified last week that Miller assaulted him three times when he was 12 and 13 years old – once in the church rectory office, once in Miller’s car, and once at a sleepover retreat at Camp Mackey.
(The identity of the victim is protected by a court ordered publication ban.)
Ordained in May 1969 at the age of 24, Miller was curate at Our Lady of Good Counsel from 1970 to 1976.
One of his duties was to work with the youth of the church.
Taking the witness stand in his own defence, Miller agreed that he was “young, dynamic and even charismatic” when he was appointed to serve in Deep River.
“I was quite a popular priest, yes,” he said.
But Miller steadfastly denied the allegations against him, saying he doesn’t remember “Joseph” in the least.
“I don’t know who he is. I don’t recall any interaction with him at all,” he said.
“You’re saying you don’t remember his name, you don’t know who he is?” said acting Crown attorney Brian Holowka.
“Yes. I don’t remember him at all,” Miller agreed.
What’s more, he knows he never committed the acts he is accused of, Miller said.
“I never touched anyone inappropriately in my office, in my car or at the camp. I’m absolutely certain about that.”
Why are you absolutely certain? Holowka asked.
“I remember,” Miller said.
“Those deeds are so awful, how could you not remember? That’s why if I had done it, I would have remembered.”
Miller said that when he was first charged, he “rationalized” that what he pleaded guilty to was “touching.”
“I thought I didn’t really do too much.”
Later, after counselling and therapy, “I understood the damage I have done.”
Miller said that when he was arrested on the original charges, he gave the police the names of all the boys he could remember.
But Holowka said in fact there were other victims who came forward after the first charges were laid whose names Miller had not given to police.
“Either you didn’t give police all the names or you didn’t remember all of the victims,” Holowka said.
“Some names I didn’t remember,” Miller admitted.
In his testimony, Miller was hazy on many of the details of the time, like whether there was a pizza restaurant across the highway from the church named Jordi’s.
“It was 40 years ago. I’m trying to be honest and I don’t recall,” he said under questioning.
“Some things I remember, some I don’t.”
Miller said he pleaded guilty to the charges in the first case, even to events he did not remember, because the facts fit the circumstances as he remembered them.
“I didn’t want to go through court. I didn’t want to put them (the victims) through that. I figured everyone had been through enough,” he said.
But Holowka said he would suggest that the events Joseph described “did occur.”
“This is another example of you not remembering all of the victims out there. Would you agree?” Holowka said.
“I would not agree with that at all,” Miller replied.
“I know what I did and what I didn’t do, and I never did anything like that to anyone in the office, in my car or on the (camp) weekend,” he said.
Miller served six months of his previous nine month sentence before being released in June.
“It was terrible,” he said.
“You would do anything to avoid going back?” Holowka said.
“I wouldn’t do anything,” Miller replied. “I swore on the Bible to tell the truth and that’s what I’m doing.”
“May I suggest you have a motive to avoid remembering these things?” Holowka said.
“I certainly have an interest in defending myself,” Miller said.
In their closing arguments, Holowka and defence attorney Robert Carew argued that the case came down to who is the more credible witness.
Carew suggested that Joseph had an “ulterior motive” or was involved in possible “collusion,” having vowed in an email exchange with one of the victims in the original case that, “together we will get the bastard.”
Carew also said Joseph’s memories of the assaults were “almost too perfect,” even down to details like the position of the window covers in the rectory office.
“These events are 40 years old. It defies credulity that he could remember the position of curtains or blinds (after all that time),” he said.
Carew said it was clear from his email messages that Joseph thought Miller’s original nine-month sentence was too light.
But under oath, Carew said, the victim said he never told anyone that.
“He thought it was important for whatever reason to hide that fact,” Carew said.
“It really highlights that there may be collusion or an ulterior motive (involved) and it leaves the court with more than a reasonable doubt that he is not being forthright.”
Miller, in contrast, may be hazy on some of the details, but he is certain that he never committed the acts Joseph described, Carew said.
He was older at the time and can be expected to have a better memory of that period, he added.
“He knows what he did or didn’t do,” Carew said.
“He may be forgetful of names, but he is not forgetful of what he did or where he did it.”
Even without giving Miller’s evidence any weight, Carew said it would be “dangerous” to convict on the basis of the doubts about Joseph’s testimony.
But Holowka said that the things Carew raised as doubts actually support that testimony.
He said the details of the testimony were presented in “compelling terms” and that the court needs to remember that the events described happened when the victim was 12 or 13 years old.
“To attribute adult standards of credibility or reliability is not the appropriate way to assess his evidence,” Holowka said.
“These are events of 40 years ago as viewed through the eyes of a child and need to be assessed that way.”
As far as suggestions that Joseph was motivated by an “ulterior motive” in an attempt to “get” Miller, Holowka said the victim has “nothing to gain out of this.”
“The evidence discloses that he is motivated by a sense of justice, not… by animus toward Mr Miller,” he said.
And as for the possibility of “collusion” with one of Miller’s other victims, “if this is a conspiracy, this is the worst conspiracy ever created,” Holowka said.
He made no attempt to hide his association with the previous victim and clearly admitted he came forward after the original case was concluded.
“It’s clear this was a very difficult decision for him (but that he) feels compelled (at that point) to come forward and not stand in the wings.”
As for Miller, Holowka said his insistence that he had absolutely no memory of Joseph was “difficult to accept” and was “convenient testimony.”
Holowka said Miller’s memory was “patchy” and that he has already admitted he did not remember all of his victims.
If that’s true, how can he be “adamant” that he doesn’t even know this person, Holowka said.
“It’s clear he wants to distance himself from (the victim),” he said.
In his submission, Holowka said, Miller’s testimony should be rejected.
“He is motivated today by a desire not to go back to jail,” he said.
In an unusual twist, Justice James posed a question to the two attorneys following their statements.
One of the features of the trial is that Joseph testified his memories of the abuse were suppressed for most of the past 40 years, and only came back after he read about the original charges laid against Miller.
Justice James asked if there wasn’t a role for some understanding of the “science of that” – of how memory works.
“Am I to assume these memories are reliable, that I can assume the mind works in the way that it works, that this can happen?” he said.
“It seems to me that’s a factor I’m going to have to consider, at least in assessing the evidence.”
Holowka said that as presiding judge, Justice James would have to rely on assessing Joseph’s evidence the same as he would any other.
“The record is the record,” he said.
Carew more or less agreed, saying Justice James would have to consider the context of all of the evidence presented.
“It’s not an everyday event that someone forgets something for 40 years and then recalls it,” he said.
Miller is still listed as a priest on the Diocese of Pembroke website.
He appeared throughout the trial in lay clothes, wearing a regular suit and tie.
On his previous charges, Miller was sentenced last November to nine months in jail and three years probation, the maximum requested by Crown attorney Jason Nicol.
“Anything less fails to recognize the seriousness of the harm done to the victims, their families and the community,” said Superior Court Justice Timothy Ray in delivering the verdict.