11 April 2012
By Debbi Christinck
Pembroke — Robert Borne was sentenced to five months of house arrest for indecently assaulting a teen in Griffith in the late 1970s.
In court on Tuesday afternoon Justice Julianne Parfett sentenced him to a nine-month conditional sentence to be served in the community with the first five months under house arrest. The priest will be allowed to attend mass, make emergency medical visits and have three hours on Saturdays to buy his weekly necessities. He was also prohibited from contacting his victim or the victim’s family, as well as being prohibited from association with people under 18 without another adult present. He will be on probation for two years.
Msgr. Borne was found guilty in November of assaulting a then 16-year-old boy in 1979 while on an overnight visit to the parish in Griffith. The court heard he shared a bed with the boy and began kissing the teen, then went on to perform felatio on him.
Following his sentencing the priest received an emotional hug from his sister, Bonnie Coleman, who has been present in the courtroom supporting her brother throughout the trial and the sentencing, and broke down in tears following the sentence of house arrest. Msgr. Borne did not address the court on Tuesday, but listened impassively in the morning as victim impact statements were read into the court record stating his actions had damaged the reputation of the church and the faith of a family.
Justice Parfett said in cases of child sexual abuse sentencing is primarily for denunciation and deterrence. She said in this case the objectives were general deterrence since court-ordered assessments show the priest is at low risk to re-offend.
She said the reputation Msgr. Borne had in the community was a double-edged sword because it made the parents of the victim trust him. She stressed no blame should be attached to them for allowing their son to travel on the weekend with the priest.
“They placed their trust in Robert Borne and that trust was betrayed in the most heinous way possible,” she said.
In the issue of emotional trauma on the victim, there has been ample proof of the deep emotional trauma victims endure and it is to the credit of this victim he has been a successful member of the community, Justice Parfett said. As far as allegations made the victim merely wants financial compensation through a civil suit, she said this did not affect her ruling.
“Whether there is a civil suit does not impact that Robert Borne sexually assaulted (the victim whose identity is protected),” she said.
Mitigating circumstances in favour of Msgr. Borne included his lack of a prior record, the fact this was a single incident and there was no repetition of the crime in the last 30 years. Aggravating factors include the fact the victim was under 18, and although there was no formal priest/parishioner relationship, there was a level of trust because he was a priest, she said.
Crown asked for Jail
In closing arguments earlier in the day, following victim impact statements, assistant Crown attorney John Pepper asked for a sentence of nine to 12 months in custody with three years of probation.
“This is not the case of a momentary indiscretion,” he said. “It is the case of a sexual assault on a young person; to lose sight of that for one moment does not do justice to this case.”
He said the sentence should serve to denounce the offence, deter the offender and deter others from committing a similar offence. He said one issue to consider was the fact Msgr. Borne continues to state the victim shares responsibility for what occurred in Griffith. The priest also has “a lack of ability to admit there were issues involving a breach of trust,” Mr. Pepper said.
When the priest assaulted the young man the priest was a trusted participant in the family circle where their faith and life in the Catholic Church were of paramount importance, he noted
“It is a breach of trust,” he said. “It is a breach of trust as an employee of the Diocese.”
He said this was a breach of trust in the faith the parents of the victim placed in him when they allowed their son to travel with him to Griffith and on to Toronto.
“It is troubling he seems not to accept that,” he said.
Children are our most valuable and vulnerable assets and the consequences of this action have been deeply felt by the victim and his family, he said. Their faith in the church has been challenged if not completely obliterated, Mr. Pepper said.
It is clear Msgr. Borne is a gifted, perhaps even charismatic priest, but this only enabled him to lure in his victims, he said.
“It is that charisma, that respect, that popularity and acceptance which makes it easier for him to commit the offence,” he said.
This appearance of good character makes it easier for him to facilitate the offence, Mr. Pepper said.
Msgr. Borne’s offences have divided the community, he said. He also addressed the letters submitted to the court supporting Msgr. Borne by his defence attorney. He said some went so far as to attack the victim again.
“In judging the gravity of the offence the court should consider this is a breach of trust, a breach of trust with the faith community and a breach of trust with his employer,” he said. “It is an exploitation of a vulnerable and not very worldly person.”
This is a case of straight-out assault, Mr. Pepper said.
Victim Not Defenceless
Defence Attorney Robert Carew said the crime did not justify prison time and instead it should be a suspended sentence with probation. He said the court should remember the incident was of short duration and the victim does not remember how it ended. He said there were no threats of coercion or violence. This is not a classic case of breach of trust in the legal sense, he added. It is not a teacher-student, employer-employee or priest-altar boy relationship, he said.
“There was no element of trying to groom (the victim) or troll for him,” he said.
In fact, the 16-year-old was not vulnerable, but had a license and would later impregnate his teenage girlfriend, he noted.
“It is not a defenceless five or eight year old,” he said.
The character references presented to the court show of the positive impact Msgr. Borne has had on people, he said. In reply to the victim impact statements, he said the mother of the victim should be reminded her older son had initiated sexual contact with the priest and was quite experienced as found in the preliminary hearing. His case against the priest was dismissed earlier.
“There is a matter of debate and that is whether her son is a sexual predator,” he said of the older son.
The lawyer went on to say this woman went so far as to try to blackmail the priest later saying she knew what he had done when she wanted business from the Cathedral directed toward her family.
In addressing the victim impact statement of the victim, Mr. Carew pointed out while he said his faith in the Catholic Church was gone, in fact he was on school council in a Catholic school where his children attended.
Msgr. Borne is at low risk to re-offend, the lawyer said.
“My client has never been in trouble,” he said. “There have been no re-occurrences.”
Msgr. Borne did not have the intent to assault or hurt anyone, Mr. Carew said.
“This is one moment of indiscretion on the part of my client 30 years ago,” he said. “Is that enough to throw him in jail for a year?”
He said a suspended sentence would be more appropriate. He has already had enough punishment to serve as a deterrent for others, he noted.
“My client has effectively lost employment,” he said. “His whole life was dedicated to a religious career.”
Msgr. Borne has suffered from a loss of reputation, if that is part of the aim of sentencing, he said.
“There has been a lot of publicity against him,” he said. “All that could have a dissuasive effect.”