Priest stole their innocence

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The Pembroke Observer

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 10:16:05 EDT AM

By Sean Chase, Daily Observer

 

PEMBROKE – A Pembroke priest, who has pleaded guilty to fondling boys four decades ago, not only took away his victims’ innocence but their faith, a court heard Tuesday.

During impact statements delivered by the five men who were touched inappropriately by the priest, Father Daniel Miller was described as a revered member of the Catholic church and the community who, secretly, committed the worst possible perversion against them.

Many were exploited by the priest because they came from broken or impoverished homes, the court heard, with Miller offering his friendship and spiritual guidance. They were boys between the ages of nine and 13 when their trust in the priest was violated.

“For the last 43 years I have kept a dark secret which I couldn’t have told anyone,” said one of the victims, whose identity is protected by a publication ban.

Miller has plead guilty to five counts of gross indecency and indecent assault against a male. Ordained in Renfrew in 1969, Miller served in parishes in Arnprior, Deep River, Eganville and Petawawa before 1999. The incidents involving the boys occurred between 1969 and 1980. Police charged him with six counts in February, 2012, however, the crown has since dropped one of the charges.

During a sentencing hearing before Justice Timothy Ray, victims expressed their anger not only at the priest but the church for not taking steps to report the allegations to the authorities.

“How could the Catholic church allow these men of the cloth to commit this against me,” asked one of the victims, who was nine years old when Miller befriended his family, adding he has since left the church. “The extent of the abuse cannot be denied or trivialized anymore. The Catholic church has not been motivated enough to rid itself of these abusers.”

Another victim took the stand to say that Miller molded him at an impressionable age. While he allowed his childhood priest to marry he and his wife and baptize his first child, the victim was haunted by what Miller did but was fearful to say anything. As was the case with many of the boys, the victim said he turned to drugs and alcohol to suppress his guilt. He has also had difficulties in his relationships and subsequent marriage.

“This is a secret I would have taken to my grave,” he said. “Who would have believed me? He was a priest and had a trusted reverence.”

Most of the incidents occurred when Miller took his victims to his mother’s home in Renfrew. One of the victims was fondled at the rectory at Pikwakanagan First Nation in Golden Lake. In that case, Miller pulled down the boy’s underwear and briefly touched his genitals. While the priest’s legal counsel said there is no allegations of threats being made, one victim said Miller told him he would go to hell if he told anyone.

Guilt was especially felt by the parents of the boys. One of the victims’ mothers took the stand to recount how Miller was accepted into their family because the Catholic church was considered the centre of the community back then. She explained that the priest used kindness and generosity to gain access to her sons.

“I should have protected my children,” she testified. “They lost their innocence. Their childhood was stolen from them. They kept their silence for decades as I allowed Dan Miller to be part of our lives.”

In his submissions, defense counsel Robert Carew said his client, who has no previous criminal record and has not breached his conditions since his arrest, was a suitable candidate for community supervision and should be considered for a conditional sentence to be followed by a period of probation. The nature of the allegations are such that the victims nor the accused ever undressed during these incidents, he added. While only one of the five victims claimed to be fondled between three and seven times, the others were only touched once by the priest, Carew stated.

The lawyer added that his client attended residential treatment between 1999 and 2000 after realizing he had a problem. Miller also sought further treatment from 2001 to 2003 at the suggestion of his superiors in the church.

Carew told Ray that Miller was suspended in 1999 and has since lost his job and reputation over this case. He asked the judge not to give any weight to the victims’ criticism of the church noting that the problems they have faced growing up can’t all stem from their time with Miller.

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, Miller faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence due to the indictable nature of the offence, however, the crown is seeking a nine-month jail sentence. Pointing to statements that the priest made to police and probation officials, Crown attorney Jason Nicol said Miller indicates he did nothing wrong when he touched the boys.

“How in the world can someone engage in this (type of activity) and not know it was inappropriate,” said Nicol calling this case an egregious breach of trust. “The parents had complete trust in Father Miller. He had that mantle as a trusted member of this community and as a close family friend.”

The crown asked the court not to underestimate the emotional and psychological impact this had on these young men’s lives. Stating there is no such thing as minor sexual abuse of a child, Nicol said Miller took advantage of these boys when they were at their most vulnerable.

“He assaulted these boys when they were isolated and in his control,” he said. “These boys had no chance of escape. They were within his grasp.”

The crown is seeking a nine-month jail sentence.

Ray will hand down his decision on Nov. 28.

Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist

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