23 November 2011
By Debbi Christinck
Editor’s note: This story describes sexual acts and may be inappropriate for some readers.
Pembroke — A witness broke down in tears in court as he recalled a night when Monsignor Robert Borne attempted to perform oral sex on him at the rectory in Pembroke which the priest shared with another priest and the bishop.
In the first day of testimony in the trial which could last two weeks, the court heard the now middle-aged man, whose identity is protected under a court ordered publication ban, recall a night when he was Pembroke high school student and he had gone to the Pembroke rectory to as the priest for a ride home. Instead he was given the offer of a bed for the night and when he woke up in the middle of the night, he found Msgr. Borne in the room with him.
“I woke up and he was on the bed with me,” he said.
“My underwear was partly pulled down,” he said. “He had his hand between my legs on my penis.
“His mouth was on my penis,” he said. “His hands were continuing to pull down my underwear.”
The witness, whose identity cannot be identified due to a court ordered publication ban, said he was drunk that night and had asked the priest to give him a ride home, as he had done before. Instead he was given a room across the hall from the priest to spend the night. He said when he woke up and realized what the priest was doing, he rolled over to his side to make Msgr. Borne stop.
“When he sensed I was waking up he stopped,“ he said.
According to his testimony, the priest lingered in the room for a while.
“He was trying to make some conversation like he knew I wanted it,“ he said.
When questioned by assistant Crown attorney John Pepper on whether this was the case, the witness said he did not want it nor did he consent to this act. Asked how he felt, he replied, “shock and confusion.“
Msgr. Borne is on trial facing four counts, two of indecent assault and two of acts of gross indecency against two victims. The first of the two victims began his testimony as the court proceedings began on Monday morning.
The witness said he grew up in the Petawawa area where his father was in the military. Now married for the past 24 years and living away from the Valley, he recalled how his parents were devout Catholics and he grew up going to Catholic schools. When he first met Msgr. Borne he was a student at Catholic High in Pembroke. This was the early 1980s when the priest was working there as a chaplain and teaching religion classes. The witness said he got to know the priest and a friendship formed. Eventually he would be one of several who would go visit Msgr. Borne at the rectory in Pembroke where they would be offered alcohol and a place to hang out.
“I had friends who were regularly going over there, so one day they were going and I went along,” he said.
At this time Bishop Joseph Windle was the bishop and the bishop lived in the rectory as well, he said. Early visits to the rectory were on the first floor living area, but soon they would go upstairs to the second floor where the sleeping quarters were. At that point Msgr. Borne lived there and across the hall was another priest, he said. Although he never went to the third floor of the rectory, he said he believed the bishop lived there.
The witness developed a pattern of going to the rectory for a drink and he told the court he did not feel at any risk.
“It was pretty widely known he was gay,“ he added.
Initially he testified he heard this from others, but soon believed the rumours.
“As I knew him more, I became aware of this as well,“ he said.
In fact, the witness said the priest would allude to the fact.
“I recollect him telling me he believed me to be a homosexual,“ he said. “I told him I was not.“
He said he became aware the priest wanted him to be a homosexual “as he was” he told the court. The first time Msgr. Borne is alleged to have made a sexual advance toward him was in the priest’s living quarters. The witness said he had gone there with a friend and when the friend went out of the room, the priest tried to hug him.
“I either stood up or was getting another drink,” he said. “He stoop up and tried to hug me or kiss me and had his hands on me.”
When asked where his hands were, the witness said they were on his butt.
The witness said he told the priest he was not interested in this.
“He just never believed I was not interested,” he said.
At this point the was going about once a week to the rectory to drink. Although he does not recollect Msgr. Borne drinking, there was always alcohol available there, he said. One night he had been drinking and came to the rectory to ask the priest for a drive home. He said it was late and offered a bed instead in the spare bedroom across the hall. The witness said he stripped down to his t-shirt and briefs and went to bed.
“Were you expecting trouble when you went to bed?” Mr. Pepper asked.
“No,” the witness replied.
When he woke up and found the priest performing oral sex on him, the witness said he moved position to make him stop and was confused and upset after this. He said during the encounter the priest had succeed in fully removing his underwear before he was fully awake. He told the court Msgr Borne made some attempts to see if he would participate and when he sensed he would not he left the room. The next morning the two men had breakfast with the bishop, he testified.
Although he said “things had changed for me” he believed the priest would not attempt this again he testified. So once again when he needed a ride, he went to the rectory to ask for help.
“I was very, extremely intoxicated,” he said. “I do not believe I was able to walk much further at this point.”
The witness said this time he stayed in Msgr. Borne’s room and when he woke and found the priest on his bed, he began to act sick, as if he was violently ill and shaking. Msgr. Borne said he would get help from another priest and if the teen was not better they would call an ambulance, the witness said. Once the second priest arrived the witness said he felt he did not have to pretend to be sick anymore. However he added soon he went to the bathroom and threw up. He told the court it was both from the alcohol and the revulsion of the close encounter he had experienced.
The witness said after this he was “basically a mess” and left the area. His opinion of the priesthood and Msgr. Borne was abysmal.
“He had done things against what priests are supposed to do, one this is to be celibate,“ he said.
The witness said when he was up north and penniless, he asked Msgr. Borne for a loan of $200, and the priest gave it to him. When he came back to Renfrew County, they talked about the loan, he said.
“He said I could forget about the money he would take payment back by taking me to motels,” he testified. “I declined that.”
Msgr. Borne also said they could go to a park in Deep River to engage in sexual activities, the witness said. However by now he testified he was so angry he decided to tell the priest he would go with him to Deep River so he could see what activities were going on. However he never went to either a motel or to the park with Msgr. Borne he said.
When he read about the charges against Msgr. Borne a few years ago he said he felt he was ready to come forward.
“I truly believed I was the only one he had assaulted,” he said. “I felt there would be more credibility when there was more than one.”
The assaults on him as a young man have left him anxious and with a complete distrust of male authority figures, he said. He has issues with alcohol and has several convictions of drinking and driving, he said. The witness said he also experiences guilt he did not speak up back then so others would not be affected.
In cross-examination which began on Monday and was not finished by the end of the day, Msgr. Borne’s lawyer Robert Carew repeatedly challenged the witness about inconsistencies in his previous statements to police and at the preliminary hearing, as well as challenging him about blogs he made online using a screen name.
Mr. Carew said the hug and “butt pat” might have been just a sign of affection, but the witness rejected that.
He also questioned how the witness could have gone to the priest for help.
“Were you taking advantage of him?” he asked.
“No, he had already taken advantage of me,” the witness said.
The lawyer said there were inconsistencies in the statement given at the preliminary and to the police about the underwear being on or off. As well, he added the witness did not mention until more recently what colour the underwear were
“Effectively you were making this up as you go along,” he said.
Mr. Carew said the amount of alcohol the witness said he consumed was more than he let on.
“No amount of alcohol will ever cloud what happened to me and I’ve tried,” the witness replied.
The defence lawyer questioned why the witness later, long after he had left the area, called Msgr. Borne about an annulment for a friend.
“I believed I had heard he had a new posting,” the witness replied. “I was interested in what he was up to.”
“You were calling someone you claimed you detested for information?” the lawyer asked.
“Yes,” the witness replied.
Mr. Carew said in fact the relationship was always one in which the witness used the priest, before for free booze and now for information.
“You were taking advantage of Robert Borne from start to finish,” the lawyer said.
“No,” the witness replied.
The defence attorney produced copies of internet postings the witness made about the Borne case. The witness admitted the postings were his and he was trying to help other victims of abuse by the clergy.
“Are you hear for justice, to tell the truth or are you slanted?” he asked.
He pointed out some of the “blogs” contained untruths about things which happened in the preliminary.
“You are almost a smart alec,” the lawyer said, adding the witness is prepared to lie and misrepresent things to suit his purpose.
The witness said he wanted to help others on the site.
“Many people are afraid to come forward in these types of cases and I wanted to do what I could to help,” he said.
When the court adjourned on Monday, the Crown was given copies of the 90 pages of website chat in which the witness participated related to the Borne case and others relating to the abuse by priests.