Robert Borne testifies he did grope a teenage boy but maintains he is not gay

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The Eganville Leader

30 November 2011

By Debbi Christinck

Staff Writer

Pembroke — Former Eganville parish priest Msgr. Robert Borne testified in court he engaged in mutual groping with a teenage boy, but adamantly denied he was a homosexual, or that he had done anything wrong.

“You put yourself in a position almost any member of the church would criticize you for,” noted assistant Crown attorney John Pepper, adding these actions placed him in a position of breaching some serious promises he had made.

“Were you aware of the risk you were taking to your reputation and vocation?” he questioned Msgr. Borne on Wednesday morning on the third day of the trial in Pembroke.

“Perhaps that is why I ceased so quickly,” the priest replied.

The incident occurred in 1979 at the rectory in Griffith when the priest travelled to celebrate mass and took the then 16-year-old with him. The incident relates to one of two alleged victims who testified in court earlier in the proceedings about their sexual molestation at the hands of the priest.

Msgr. Borne was originally accused of sexually assaulting three victims. Eventually, charges were laid in connection with five victims, but last year in the preliminary hearing, charges were thrown out in connection with three of the victims. He now stands charged with two counts of indecent assault and two counts of acts of gross indecency. A publication ban is in place to protect the identity of the two victims.

On Wednesday, the priest took the stand as the first witness for the defence. Now 63, he said these incidents occurred when he was in his 30s. One incident was in 1979 and the other in 1981. During this time, Msgr. Borne was living in Pembroke and working at the Diocesan chancellery office as well as acting as a chaplain at Catholic High. During the course of his career he worked in Bancroft, Mattawa, Pembroke and Eganville, he told the court.

The priest said he got to know the alleged victim involved in the incident in Griffith through his older brother. The relationship was friendly and always remained so, he added, up until the court case.

Contrary to the evidence of the witnesses, the priest testified he did not make alcohol readily available for the teens although he did have it in his apartment.

“He may have helped himself while I was not there,” he said.

The priest said he spent two weekends in Griffith with the alleged victim. The first weekend he travelled with two teenage boys. He testified the first weekend the boys shared a pullout sofa and he used the bed. When the invitation came to go back for the second weekend only one of the boys could go, he testified. The priest said it was not easy to go alone to somewhere where he did not know people, so that is why he invited the teens to come along. The second weekend trip was to be combined with a trip to Toronto because it is closer to get to Toronto from Griffith, he said.

Msgr. Borne testified when they got to Griffith he also did a mass in Esmonde and then they went to the rectory in Griffith. He told the court they chatted, tried to watch television but the reception was lousy and eventually they went to bed.

The priest said he mentioned to the teen they could pull out the sofa bed but the teen said the sofa bed was not comfortable and he would sleep in the bed with the priest. When they got to bed, they began to talk about a sexual encounter the teen had had.

“I remember him saying he did not seem to mind having sex with men or women,” the priest said.

Following this discussion they began mutual groping, which he described as fondling or touching, he testified. This lasted “a matter of minutes”, according to his testimony.

“Did you attempt to perform felatio or remove his undergarments?” Msgr. Borne’s attorney Bob Carew asked.

“Absolutely not,” the priest replied.

“Did you do anything against his wishes?” the lawyer asked.

“Absolutely not,” the priest said.

Later that weekend the young man said he was not interested in “that kind of a relationship” Msgr. Borne told the court.

“I recall saying nor was I with him,” the priest said.

Belligerent Teen

The priest testified his relationship with the other alleged witness, who maintains the priest attempted oral sex on him at the rectory (St. Columbkille) in Pembroke, was much more combative. He described the teen as being a difficult person who would push his way into the rectory and was always looking for things from the priest, such as a drive, alcohol and, eventually, money.

“I was trying to be that image of the church that reaches out to everyone regardless of how upsetting it was to me,” he testified.

In recent years, Msgr. Borne he has come to realize the teen was actually bullying and harassing him at this point. He said he did not enjoy being near this teenager nor was he interested in him sexually.

“I found him belligerent,” he said. “I found him hostile. I had no attraction at all to him.”

The incident in which he was accused of attempting to kiss the teen and pat his butt never occurred, Msgr. Borne said. In fact, the teen, who was bigger than the priest, was physically intimidating, he said.

The night in the rectory, he offered the teen a bed to sleep in, the priest admitted. He said when he went to his own room and heard coughing across the hall, where the teen was sleeping, he went to make sure he was okay. He went to the room and once he realized the teen was breathing normally and all was fine, he left. The night was never discussed again, he testified.

Msgr. Borne testified he did give the teen $200 in the summer which was “a big deal on my salary” but he basically wrote it off as a bad debt.

“I knew it was a lost cause,” he said.

The teen was constantly badgering him about being gay and Msgr. Borne said he played along in a sarcastic way. The priest said even his close friends have a hard time telling if he was joking or not. The mention of going to a hotel or a park in Deep River for a sexual encounter were just part of the sarcastic reply to the accusations of being gay, he said.

“It was just to satisfy him because he was constantly badgering me,” he said. “I don’t even know if there was a park in Deep River.”

When asked about his life in the church after the charges were laid against him, Msgr. Borne said he has no status. He rents a home from the Diocese of Pembroke and is given a small allowance each month. He celebrates mass every day. Aside from taking his mother shopping weekly and having the support of family and close friends, he is isolated, he said.

“I have very little contact with anyone,” he said.

When asked about his guilt by his lawyer, Msgr. Borne said he would never assault anyone.

“I would be willing to bet if you ask anyone who knows me if I could do anything like this they would say not,” he said. “I am not a forceful person.”

Cross-Examination

In his cross-examination, Mr. Pepper questioned if the alleged victim in the Griffith rectory knew the priest had had a previous romantic relationship with the teen’s older brother.

“I never considered it a romantic relationship,” the priest said.

How would he describe it then, the Crown asked.

“It was romantic to a degree,” the priest said.

Mr. Pepper asked if the parents were aware of the true nature of the relationship between the priest and the teen would the priest have been welcome in their home. Msgr. Borne acknowledged he would “probably not” have been welcome.

The Crown pointed out when the priest invited the teen for the weekend in Griffith the relationship with the older brother was over and yet neither this teen or the parents were aware of any relationship. Msgr. Borne agreed this was the case.

The priest admitted the house was cold, which he remembers because of how cold it was when he took a shower and the upstairs was partially boarded off. Mr. Pepper questioned why he would then go to bed in a t-shirt and shorts instead of pyjamas.

“Would it not be logical to take pyjamas if you were going to share a hotel room with a teenage boy?” he asked.

The Crown asked about the sleeping arrangements and whether or not the sofa was offered for the teen.

“The fact is you were eager to share the bed with him,” he said.

“I was not,” the witness said.

When they got into bed and began talking about sex, the priest said he wondered if the teen was already involved with an older man, but did not want to ask because he felt it would be intrusive.

Mr. Pepper asked about the sexual groping which took place and asked what the older man got out of groping the teenager in the genital area.

“Your purpose in touching a 16-year-old’s genitals when you are in bed together was to give you sexual pleasure,” he said. “Otherwise, why bother.”

“Once again, I have to disagree with you,” the priest said. “Sometimes we act impulsively without strategizing.”

“You knew he was a 16-year-old boy,” the Crown said. “You knew he had not seen a whole lot of the world. He was somewhere between naïve and totally ignorant of the relationship between you and his brother. He did not know you were gay.”

“I am not gay,” the priest said, adding the teen would have no reason to know about the relationship he had had with the older brother.

Mr. Pepper questioned if this had ever been discussed with anyone.

“It was not the sort of thing I would go broadcasting,” the priest said.

Would his sense of shame keep him from talking, the Crown asked.

“I would be ashamed if something happened,” Msgr. Borne said. “I’m less ashamed because nothing did.”

Counselling Teen

Mr. Pepper questioned why Msgr. Borne did not try to offer some counselling to the witness he described as a belligerent teen.

“You were not doing anything to help him, were you?” he asked.

“I thought I was,” the priest said.

“You let this boy with a drinking problem who you were frightened of drink alcohol in the rectory,” he noted.

The priest said the teen took what he wanted and he was trying to be charitable to him to improve his opinion of the church.

When asked why he let the teen in the rectory at night when he was obviously drinking, the priest said he could have stopped him, but that is not what he was trained to do.

“Is it your sense as a priest you are always on duty?” the Crown asked.

“Yes,” Msgr. Borne said.

Mr. Pepper asked if he was also on duty when he was in Griffith with the teenage boy in bed.

“I would not call it that,” the priest said.

Mr. Pepper asked why the priest was insisting he was replying sarcastically when the teen taunted him about being gay.

“You had had a series of sexual relationships with males up to that time,” the Crown said.

“Yes,” the priest said.

“You say that is different from homosexuality in your mind,” Mr. Pepper said.

“Yes,” Msgr. Borne said.

 

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