The Eganville Leader
30 November 2011
By Debbi Christinck
Pembroke — Former Eganville Parish Priest Robert Borne was found guilty of indecent assault and gross indecency last Friday following a week-long trial.
Justice Julianne Parfett found the 63-year-old priest guilty of assaulting a 16-year-old at the rectory in Griffith in 1979. He was also charged with one count of indecent assault and one of gross indecency against a 19-year-old at the St. Columbkille Rectory in Pembroke in 1981, but was acquitted on those charges. In rendering her verdict, Justice Parfett said although she believed the 1981 incidents probably occurred, she could not say they did beyond a reasonable doubt. There were too many inconsistencies in the statements of the alleged victim given on different occasions, from police statements to the preliminary inquiry, to his day-long testimony in court to allow for a guilty verdict, she said. Msgr. Borne in his testimony repeatedly denied either assault took place.
In her verdict, Justice Parfett said she found the testimony of Msgr. Borne lacking credibility, which was the critical issue in the case.
“In my view he was occasionally evasive, even with questions coming from his own counsel,” she said.
In her verdict she described Msgr. Borne’s testimony as “lacking logic and common sense”. In regards to the trip to Griffith, she said there is no way the priest could not have been aware the teen was consuming alcohol in the rectory that weekend. She said the priest would also have been aware the second alleged victim was consuming alcohol at the rectory in Pembroke.
“It is important to remember the accused was an adult at the time, the complainants were teenagers,” she said, noting he would have been aware of their alcohol consumption.
Justice Parfett said when Msgr. Borne was questioned if he used force on either teen, his answer was non-responsive and evasive, even though the question was unambiguous. She said his answers “defy credulity” when he said he had no ulterior motive when he was engaged in mutual fondling of a teenager during the overnight stay in Griffith. She said the only purpose of such an activity is sexual gratification, noting either he was sexually interested in the teen or there was no purpose in the sexual activity. Once again, she reiterated he was a man in his 30s and the teen was 16.
“Borne was the adult, the person who could more easily control events,” she said.
During his testimony, Msgr. Borne was evasive on his sexual preferences, although he agreed he was involved in a series of sexual relationships with men, Justice Parfett said.
“It is commonly accepted men who prefer sex with other men are homosexual,” she said.
During his testimony, the priest twice denied he was homosexual, but gave no explanation when he said this, she noted.
In her verdict, Justice Parfett said on the other hand the testimony of the man who was assaulted in Griffith was consistent throughout. In fact, she described him as scrupulously honest in his testimony. She said the man indicated he would not have consented to this kind of activity when he was a teen because he was not interested in men. Justice Parfett said the man testified about remembering the feel of Msgr. Borne’s stubble on his face when the priest kissed him. The fact that he went into a state of shock when the priest began to kiss him and went on to perform oral sex on him does not mean he wanted this to happen, she said. Justice Parfett said she would be reluctant to attribute consent to this victim on the basis he could have reacted and did not. This was an assault from an adult on a teen and the adult in question was one the teen trusted, she said.
This witness also bore no evidence of having a grudge against the priest, she said. He was in fact reluctant to press charges based on his “live and let live” philosophy, she noted. However, the evidence of this witness and the other witness together does reveal a pattern of Msgr. Borne to take advantage of drunk teenagers, she noted.
Msgr. Borne will be back in court on April 10, 2012 for the sentencing before Justice Parfett, who was also the judge in the trial of Wilno native Father Bernard Prince. This date allows time for the pre-sentence report and victim impact statements. Msgr. Borne remains on bail until April. He will be sentenced on indecent assault and the charges staid on gross indecency. He cannot be sentenced on both because the two charges arise from the same set of facts.
Justice Parfett heard closing arguments in the case last Thursday and deliberated before bringing her verdict on Friday. In his comments, defence lawyer Robert Carew of Ottawa said the credulity of the witness testifying about the incidents in the Pembroke rectory lacked credibility because the witness wanted to “win” and get a conviction at all costs, based on blogs he wrote online. He said the testimony of this witness lacked consistency. He said the witness in the Griffith incidents could not remember incidents of the weekend, but said he was not forced into bed by the priest.
“It is easy for him to say today he did not consent, but he does not know what he said at the time,” he said. “What was his frame of mind 32 years ago?”
He said this witness could be embarrassed he had some form of “exploratory sexual contact with his client.” On the other hand. Msgr. Borne said he would never force himself on an unwilling partner, Mr. Carew said. He said his client’s recollection of events is much more reliable, noting the priest said the mutual groping in bed “was not working so it stopped.”
He said it would not be safe to convict his client based on the evidence presented in court. Mr. Carew said his client was being charitable to the teens by lending them his car and opening his home to them, noting this was done in the context of the church helping people.
In his comments, Assistant Crown Attorney John Pepper said Msgr. Borne is an intelligent man and an educated man, but his evidence is not in accordance with logic and common sense. He said the priest testified the witness in the Pembroke incidents was a bully and abrasive, yet the priest admitted he made no effort to stop him from drinking and allowed him access to the rectory frequently. He said the priest was annoyed at this witness harassing him about being gay, which Msgr. Borne continued to maintain he was not on the witness stand.
“When he is confronted with clear evidence he is, he completely denies it,” he said.
During testimony in court, Msgr. Borne did admit he was involved in a relationship with a teenage boy who was not one of the complainants. The priest also did not see there was anything untoward or risky when he got into bed with a teenage boy when both were wearing only a t-shirt and underpants, Mr. Pepper noted. The Crown said the priest continued to deny on the witness stand he had a sexual motivation for fondling the teen’s genitals.
“It may well be Robert Borne has come to believe that himself,” Mr. Pepper said. “He is not a fool and he is not psychotic, but in my submission, he is certainly misleading the court.”
Whether he is doing this because he has misled himself or is trying to evade the consequences of his actions needs to be decided, he added.
The similarities in the testimony between the two witnesses are also startling, the Crown said. Both describe the priest assaulting them through unwanted oral sex.