A Roman Catholic priest on trial for his alleged sexual misconduct took the stand in his own defence Wednesday.
Monsignor Robert Borne, 63, is being tried on two charges each of indecent assault and gross indecency in relation to two males, who cannot be identified because of a court-ordered publication ban. The incidents are alleged to have occurred in 1979 and 1981. The complainants are now in their 40s.
Throughout his testimony, whether responding to questions from his Ottawa-based lawyer Robert Carew or assistant Crown attorney John Pepper, Msgr. Borne denied having non-consensual relations with either complainants, although he did admit to mutual groping between himself and the then 16-year-old boy while the pair stayed at the rectory in Griffith on a weekend when he was filling in for another priest who was away. The court previously heard that Msgr. Borne met the boy through his brother.
It was the second visit to Griffith for the pair, although they had been accompanied by another teenager for the previous trip. During the first visit, the two teenagers had shared a pull-out couch, while Borne slept in the bed.
On the return visit, when the priest started to pull the couch out for the teenager when it was time to go to bed, he said it wasn’t comfortable and suggested sharing a bed, Borne testified.
He told the court that he did not have any intentions of coming onto the boy. He went onto explain that the teenager began telling him about a recent sexual encounter with a girl at a party when he was drunk. The discussion of sexual nature continued, during which time the teenager indicated he didn’t mind having sex with men or women, the accused told the court.
It was after the discussion that the groping occurred.
Pepper suggested a sexual encounter with the boy was always his intention, although Borne vehemently denied the allegation, adding he was not interested in having sex with the complainant. He testified he did not see a problem sharing a bed with a 16-year-old male, however.
He testified the encounter lasted only five minutes or less and he ceased because of the morality of it. He stopped himself because of his own sense of right and wrong. He also denied any attempt at performing fallacio, which is the basis for the charge.
Pepper questioned his sense of shame after the incident.
“I would have been very ashamed if something had happened, but I’m less ashamed because nothing did,” Borne said.
The day after the encounter, the teen indicated he was not interested in a relationship and the priest testified that at the time he responded neither was he.
The pair continued their friendship after returning to Pembroke following the weekend, although the contact dwindled as the teen got a new job and new group of friends, Borne testified. They did have cordial meetings over the years since, however.
When questioned about the other complainant, now 49, Borne painted the picture of a belligerent teen who most often showed up at the rectory next to St. Columbkille Cathedral where he lived unannounced. Thinking back on the interaction, he believes he was being bullied, harassed and manipulated by the teen, he told the court.
Despite his fear of the teen, the priest testified that in the image of the church he was trying to reach out as he believed the teen had trouble in his life, including difficulties with alcohol, which is why he continued to lend him his car and let him stay at the rectory on two occasions, when the misconduct is alleged to have occurred.
When asked about the first alleged contact with the 19-year-old in 1981, where the complainant alleges Borne attempted to hug and kiss him and possibly grab his buttocks, the witness was adamant that it never happened.
“Because of my antipathy for him, I would not have in any way approached him,” Borne stressed.
He also testified that he had not physical attraction to the complainant because of the person he was, referring to his belligerent and hostile nature.
In relation to the first alleged incident between the two in the bedroom at the rectory, the accused explained the teenager showed up at his residence after a night of drinking looking for a ride home. Because he was so fed up with the complainant’s behaviour by this time, he refused to drive him home but offered him the choice of finding another way home or spending the night in one of the spare rooms, he testified.
Because of his visitor’s state of inebriation, there wasn’t much conversation so Borne showed him to the bedroom across the hall from his own room and left. Not long after, he heard coughing coming from the other room, so he went to check on the teen because he felt responsible for him. He testified that he opened the door, went into the room and shook him and called his name. When he realized the teen was still alive and breathing he left the room, he told the court. He estimates he was in the room for about five minutes.
The second alleged incident occurred a couple of weeks later, according to Borne, who explained the complainant showed up drunk again so he offered him a place to sleep. Because of his state, the teen just laid down on the bed and started making noise and shaking so he was fearful that something was seriously wrong. The priest testified that he offered to call an ambulance, but the teen seemed to calm down so he left the room.
When questioned by Pepper about his reasoning behind the continued contact with the teen despite feeling afraid and intimidated by him, Borne explained it was trying to help him as clergy was trained to do.
Borne was ordained in 1974 and held various postings through the diocese, with the most recent St. James Parish in Eganville. He told the court that as a result of these charges, he currently has no status as far as the Catholic church is concerned. He rents a house from the diocese and receives a small allowance. He testified he has little contact with anyone, although he takes his mother shopping once a week and visits with members of his family, who have been supportive throughout the process. He still attends mass every day.
The crown and defence will make their closing arguments this morning and Justice Julianne Parfett is expected to deliver her verdict on Friday morning.