Priest Archdiocese of Edmonton, Alberta. Ordained 04 June 1960. 1997 GUILTY to charges related to sex abuse of three young boys between 1971 and 1984. Sentenced to 2 years. In 1997 an investigation by Edmonton Journal identified O’Neill as a paedophile who was moved from parish to parish. Even when boys spoke up in Gallahad Alberta O’Neill was moved and molested again. Word is that many victims received cover-up money to buy their silence. Further conviction in 1998 for sex abuse of two Irish boys he brought to Edmonton on holiday in the mid 90s. Spent time at Southdown. January 2012 – lawsuit launched alleging abuse while O’Neill was serving in Grande Cache Alberta
Archbishops of Edmonton Archdiocese from time of O’Neill’s ordination: John Hugh MacDonald (05 March 1938 – 11 August 1964 ); Anthony Jordan, O.M.I. (11 August 1964 – – 02 July 1973); Joseph Neil MacNeil (02 July 1973 – – 07 Jun2 1999); Thomas Christopher Collins (07 June 1999 – – 16 December 2006 to Archbishop of Toronto, Ontario); Richard William Smith (22 March 2007 – – )
Anthony Jordan, O.M.I served as Coadjutor Archbishop from April 1955 until his installation as Archbishop in August 1964.
2012: still living at Villa Vianney in Edmonton Alberta. The onsite daycare has moved, but St. Kevin’s school is still there. (P)
2011, 2010: not listed in directory (CCCD)
I have been told that he lives at Villa Vianney in Edmonton Alberta, which is located at the Edmonton Pastoral Center and is between an onsite daycare (Primrose Place) and St. Kevin’s school (P)
2002, 1999: address for Diocesan Centre, Edmonton, Alberta (CCCD)
1998, 1997, 1996, 1995: Apt. 405, 10335 – 118th Street, Edmonton, Alberta T5K 1Y6 (CCCD)
1999: GUILTY plea to charges related to sex abuse of two Irish boys he brought to Edmonton for holiday in the mid 90s – conditional sentence.
November 1998: CONVICTED for sex abuse three Alberta boys -sentenced to two years less a day
1994: 12720 – 111th Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta 403-455-8699 (now listed as St. Andrew’s Centre retirement homes and apartments) (CCCD)
1993: 10722-82nd Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta (address for St. Joseph’s Hospital, Edmonton, Alberta) (CCCD)
1990-1993: according to media studied canon law for three years (M)
1992: 130 Springhurst Ave., Ottawa. 613-234-0151 (CCCD) (he would have been living at the Oblate residence while studying canon law at St. Paul University)
1987: Church official was informed about the sex abuse at Gallahad. The victim was told that O’Neill had already been treated for his problem and everything was OK now. At the meeting O’Neill said he had been sexually abused as a child and was treated for his problem with boys. (M)
1985-86: Pastor at St. Gregory Roman Catholic Church in Holden, Alberta with missions at St. Mary (Bruce), St. John the Baptist (Kopernick-Polska), St. John Mary Vianney (Rylet), St. Francis oif Assissi (Tofield), St. Jude (Ministik). (CCCD)
1982: according to media reports, moved to Red Deer in 1982 (M)
taking boys on unsupervised trips to Oilers hockey games (M)
1981: according to media reports, moved to Drayton Valley in 1981 (M)
sexually abused a 12-year-old boy in Drayton Valley. Sent to Southdown
1973: according to media reports moved to Grand Cache in 1973 (M) The move allegedly came after diocesan were made aware of his sexual abuse of boys.(M)
1973-74: Pastor at St. Donatus, Gallahad, with missions in St. Agnes (Alliance) and St. Mary (Forestburg) (CCCD)
sexually abusing boys while he was serving in Gallahad in 1972
According to media reports went to Gallahad in 1971
1971-72: Pastor at St. Columba in Clandonald, Alberta, with missions in St. Andrew, St. Anthony (Dewbery) and St. St. Joseph (Derwent) (CCCD)
allegations by a former altar boy in 2012 lawsuit relate to O’Neill’s time at Grand Cache (M)
1967, 1969: St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, Edmonton, Alberta (Pastor Father R.J. Merchant) (CCCD)
04 June 1960: ORDAINED (CCCD)
Born in Edmonton. Graduated from St. Joseph’s High School
20 January 2012: Update on Abuse Lawsuit from Archdiocese of Edmonton, Alberta
RC Church is responsible for actions of its priests: Church denies civil liability in $550,000 action against clergyman
22 July 2000
The church’s standard denial of responsibility for the actions of child-molesting priests grows ever more tiresome.
The latest example comes from the legal lips of the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton in its response to a lawsuit against Father Patrick O’Neill and the archdiocese itself.
The lawsuit, initiated by a 19-year-old man who can’t be identified under a publication ban, was filed in May. It says the plaintiff was molested by O’Neill in the mid-’90s while at the priest’s apartment.
O’Neill, 64, pleaded guilty in December to charges of sexual assault and sexual interference involving the man who launched the suit.
But this doesn’t prevent the church from denying civil liability in the $550,000 action and calling in the Alberta Limitation of Actions Act, which stipulates lawsuits must be launched within two years of a victim knowing he or she has been hurt or within 10 years of the event — whichever comes first.
The legal wrangling apparent over O’Neill is particularly upsetting because overall it’s hard to imagine a church which bears more responsibility for an abusive priest than the Roman Catholic Church bears for O’Neill.
A 1997 investigation by The Journal’s Tom Barrett revealed O’Neill’s lengthy history of sexually abusing boys while serving as a priest in Edmonton and numerous Alberta communities.
The Catholic Church knew about his problem and responded by moving him from community to community, spreading the shameful damage from Grande Cache to Red Deer.
In 1998, O’Neill was convicted of sexually abusing three altar boys more than 20 years earlier.
Obviously, the church’s denial of responsibility in this lawsuit is merely the first step in a legal ritual which may work out in the young man’s favour.
Even the archdiocese’s lawyer, Frans Slatter, says no one would deny the priest committed the assault.
But he points out O’Neill wasn’t acting in his capacity as a priest when he met the boy and therefore, the church arguably is not responsible for his behaviour.
O’Neill met the victim while on a holiday in Ireland. He invited the boy and a friend to come to Canada for a summer visit, which they did, testifying later the trip was a two-month nightmare of sexual, physical and mental abuse.
Slatter also notes in a case involving the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of Canada, the Supreme Court ruled an assault by a club leader was not the organization’s responsibility because it occurred off the club’s property.
To suggest the church may have no responsibility for O’Neill’s behaviour just because he didn’t commit the crime on the altar tries my patience.
When the Irish boy’s parents sent him to Edmonton for a holiday it was because they knew the child would be in the care of a priest.
The church is more than aware of the power and prestige a clerical collar bestows.
By avoiding responsibility for the actions of one of its priests, the Edmonton archdiocese contributes to the ugly pattern common today. Authorities — from churches to government — will cower within any legal loophole to avoid paying for past sins.
It’s worth noting the extreme expense involved in these suits arises not from the settlements themselves, but the size of the legal bills.
Churches and the government could avoid at least half the costs if they could find a way to mediate with victims rather than enter the court system.
Regardless of the costs involved, the sexual abuse of victims by clergy is an enormous ethical issue for the church. When coming to a resolution with victims, honesty, integrity and responsibility must carry the same weight as money.
Spiritual leaders — in the O’Neill case and others — must tell the legal arm of the church who is in charge. No more dances, no more denials in the face of overwhelming evidence.
It’s time to do what’s right by these victims and get on with it.
Suit claims priest a pedophile: 19-year-old claims O’Neill molested him in mid-1990s
20 July 2000
A $550,000 lawsuit against Father Patrick O’Neill and the Roman Catholic Church claims the priest is a pedophile who should never have been allowed around children.
A 19-year-old Irish man filed the suit in May, claiming he was molested by O’Neill during a visit to Edmonton in the mid-1990s.
He says the church and the Archdiocese of Edmonton knew O’Neill was a pedophile and were negligent in allowing him to have any contact with children.
The man, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, complained to police in Northern Ireland in 1998.Edmonton city police investigated and charged the priest with sexual assault and sexual interference involving two Irish boys, including the plaintiff.
O’Neill was given a two-year conditional sentence in December after he pleaded guilty to the charges. At the time, O’Neill was already serving a two-year prison term for fondling three boys and attempting to sodomize one, more than 20 years ago in Galahad, about 150 km southeast of Edmonton.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit says he was 13 when O’Neill invited him for a holiday in Canada. He says he and his parents agreed without hesitation because O’Neill was a priest. That summer, the plaintiff claims he was sexually and physically assaulted by O’Neill at his downtown home, a rectory of the archdiocese. He claims O’Neill threatened to harm him if he told anyone.
As a result of the assaults, the plaintiff says he has suffered permanent psychological and emotional disabilities which affect his sexual function, his relationships, his education and his ability to get a good job. He says he’ll need years of counselling.
The suit also names as defendants the archdiocese of Edmonton and its leader, Archbishop Thomas Collins. Along with the church, the suit claims they are liable for O’Neill’s actions and for their own negligence and breach of trust.
“The bishop and his associates in office at the material time had a duty to care for their flock and to ensure that the priests maintained their vows of celibacy.”
By employing O’Neill, the church represented him as a proper person to have custody of children, the suit says.
“The plaintiff and his parents relied on such employment or agency and representations whereas the defendant O’Neill was a pervert and pedophile and not suitable to exercise custody over any children … The Catholic Church and the Archdiocese were aware or should have been aware of the said perversion.”
In his statement of defence, O’Neill says the lawsuit should be dismissed because, under the Alberta Limitations of Actions Act, too much time has passed since the alleged events.
Collins, in his statement of defence, denies all allegations.
A Journal investigation in 1997 identified O’Neill as a child molester who was run out of two parishes after he was caught sexually abusing boys. At one point, O’Neill attended a treatment centre for troubled priests.
Victims want priest defrocked for molesting boys: Catholic Church needs to condemn O’Neill’s actions
08 December 1999
It’s long past time for the Catholic Church to defrock Father Patrick O’Neill, say some former victims and their relatives.
The local priest pleaded guilty Monday to sexually assaulting two young Irish boys he invited to Edmonton in 1994 to stay in his apartment. Last year, O’Neill was sent to prison for two years after admitting he molested three Alberta boys, starting in 1972.
Despite those crimes, the Edmonton Archdiocese has not taken steps to have him removed from the priesthood. Repeated calls to the church office for comment Tuesday were not returned.
“Absolutely, they should take his collar away,” says the first man who came to the RCMP in 1998 and told how O’Neill molested him as an altar boy 27 years ago.
“I believe he should be blackballed and kicked right out. He should have been out in the early ’70s. If they would have dealt with him then, a lot of future victims would have been spared.”
A Journal investigation in 1997 identified O’Neill as a child molester who was run out of two parishes after he was caught sexually abusing boys. In both cases, the church moved the predatory priest to another parish and he continued molesting children.
A few years ago, the church took away his right to say mass and hear confessions.
Defence lawyer Rick Stroppel said in court Monday the 64-year- old was on a leave of absence from the church and does not believe he will ever be allowed to work in a parish again.
“I really think he should be removed,” said the father of another victim, who went to the church and got O’Neill moved from the little town of Galahad in 1973, after learning the priest had molested his son.
“It’s been going on for so long and the more I hear about it the worse it gets. Surely someone in the church must have known he had those two Irish boys staying with him in 1994.”
Sheila Williams, head of Parents of Children Sexually Abused by Clergy, wants to know why O’Neill is still a priest and why the church hasn’t publicly condemned his behaviour. “It’s up to the bishop to do something.”
“This man shouldn’t be allowed to wear a collar. That’s how he’s gotten access to so many vulnerable boys. No one has a way to know that he’s not a priest in good standing.”
Father William Woestman, a professor of Canon Law at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, says there are three ways to defrock a priest.
It would be a simple matter if the priest requested it or could be convinced to request it, he said.
The bishop could hold an internal church trial and conclude that O’Neill should be removed. Finally, the bishop could petition Rome to have the priest defrocked, Woestman said.
`Good Shepherd’ turned out to be a predator
07 December 1999
It began as a hazy nightmare.
Sean awoke in the middle of the night and found Father Patrick O’Neill towering over him. The 59-year-old man had shoved his hand down the boy’s shorts, and was pawing his private parts.
“He kept telling me I was beautiful,” the 13-year-old later told sex-crimes detectives. “I was confused and scared. I didn’t know what to do.”
Sean pleaded with the balding, portly priest to stop, but O’Neill was stumbling drunk and bent on his own satisfaction. He ordered the sobbing boy to strip and join him in the living room. Instead, Sean lay back down on the floor and pretended to sleep.
On the next mattress, his best friend Danny had watched the sordid show in disbelief. He also feigned sleep, wanting to help his buddy but terrified he would be the next victim.
O’Neill went no further. That night.
Sean had expected a dream holiday when the friendly Edmonton priest invited the two boys from Northern Ireland for a month-long visit in 1994. He knew little about sex and nothing about homosexuality, and had been raised to respect men of the cloth.
Sean and Danny didn’t know the priest they’d be staying with had been abusing and fondling boys for more than 20 years. They didn’t know O’Neill had twice been forced out of parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese for molesting children. Each time he’d returned to a new parish. Each time there were more victims.
Finally a Journal investigation in 1997 exposed him and he was sent to prison.
But in 1994 O’Neill was still free to do as he wished.
The morning after the nightmare began, the boys took stock of the situation. They had been in Edmonton only three days and were terrified things would get worse. They were right.
Danny suggested they call home and tell their parents, but Sean was afraid they wouldn’t be believed. As it turned out, they were right about that, too. They decided to stay.
Each night, Father Pat would guzzle a bottle of whiskey and get stinking drunk. Sometimes he’d stumble around his apartment, slurring his words. He became verbally abusive and took every opportunity to put his hands on the boys. They went to bed early to avoid him, sleeping in their pants and shirts to protect themselves.
“I was terrified of him and I cried myself to sleep every night,” Danny later told police.
On car rides, O’Neill would massage the thighs of the boy who sat beside him.
“We would fight over who would end up sitting in the front,” Danny recalled. Sometimes they’d both get in the back but then the priest would explode with rage, saying he wasn’t a chauffeur. Somebody had to get up front and take the punishment.
One time, when Sean was in the shower and Danny on the balcony, O’Neill came out and said the label was sticking out of the back of Danny’s pants.
He thrust his hand in and molested the terrified child.
“I was wild scared,” Danny said years later. “It must have gone on for five minutes, but it seemed like forever.”
O’Neill used the ruse about the label repeatedly during their month-long ordeal. One night he forced the kids out of his car near midnight, leaving them to find their own way home across a strange city. Another time he kicked Danny, elbowed him in the face “and threatened to punch my lights out.”
“After that I started standing up to him,” said Danny, the bigger and stronger of the two boys. “I could see it would only get worse if I didn’t.”
O’Neill attempted to take Sean with him on solo car rides but Danny refused to let it happen, afraid his friend wouldn’t be able to protect himself from the predatory priest.
When Danny returned to Ireland, his faith shattered, his life in shambles, he told his mother what had happened. She didn’t believe him.
Later, he drifted into despair and finally swallowed a bottle of pills in the vain hope death would extinguish the pain. He survived and made up a story about school pressure to explain the suicide attempt.
Sean also broke with the church and later had to endure the agony of meeting O’Neill with his parents when the priest, whose relatives come from Northern Ireland, dropped by for a visit.
Then one day, a 1997 Journal story about O’Neill arrived in the mail and everything changed. The boys came forward and told their story to police in Northern Ireland.
On Nov. 10, 1998, O’Neill was sentenced in a Wetaskiwin court to two-years-less-a-day in prison and 36 months’ probation for sexually assaulting three Alberta boys.
Sean and Danny, whose real names were not used in this story, were not in Edmonton to see their tormentor appear in an Edmonton court Monday.
But Danny, whose evidence was read in court, told police in Ireland he finally returned to the church after a friend and cousin were among 29 people killed in a Real IRA bomb blast last year.
“I now realize that not all priests are like Father Pat,” he told the detectives.
Edmonton priest charged with sexual assault of two boys visiting from Ireland
05 March 1999
A popular Edmonton priest has been charged with sexually assaulting two young Irish boys that were guests in his apartment.
Rev. Patrick O’Neill appeared in Edmonton provincial court Monday and reserved his election and plea on two counts of sexual interference and two counts of sexual assault.
O’Neill, 63, was ordered held in custody at Alberta Hospital in the interest of and for the protection of the public. He is to appear in court again March 16.
Court documents show the alleged assaults occurred in July 1994, after O’Neill brought two 13-year-old boys over from Ireland as visitors.
The boys allege that O’Neill sexually assaulted and interfered with them by fondling during the month they were in Edmonton, says Kelly Gordon,Edmonton police service spokesperson.
They returned to Ireland and filed a complaint about O’Neill in November 1998.Edmonton city police investigated the allegations and charged the priest on Feb. 24.
O’Neill’s family comes from County Tyrone and County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland but he was born in Edmonton and raised in the Norwood neighbourhood, along with four brothers and a sister.
He graduated from St. Joseph Catholic high school and entered the priesthood, working first in Edmonton and then in a host of small towns, such as Galahad and Drayton Valley.
A Journal report in 1997 referred to O’Neill as having worked in the Edmonton Archdiocese for more than 30 years.
The story described how O’Neill was moved from parish to parish after complaints were made, mostly by former altar boys.
At one point he attended a treatment centre for troubled priests. He also commonly took young local boys on trips to Ireland and often brought Irish boys back with him.
Rev. Mike McCaffrey, chancellor of the Edmonton Archdiocese, said he did not know until 1995 about the Irish boys.
“I do know that as soon as we heard about the Ireland trips we told him not to go,” McCaffrey said in a 1997 interview. “We don’t know if anything happened.”
Priest jailed two years for molesting boys
11 November 1998
Judgment day arrived Tuesday for a Roman Catholic priest with a long and sordid history of molesting young boys.
Rev. Patrick O’Neill, 63, was sentenced to two years in prison and three years probation for fondling three boys and attempting to sodomize one more than 20 years ago.
“The victims in this case were both abused and betrayed,” said Court of Queens Bench Justice Peter Costigan.
Instead of helping to steer children through a difficult world, O’Neill manipulated them and cruelly played on their trust for his own selfish ends, Costigan said.
Painfully eloquent victim impact statements revealed how the three were driven from the church and have fought for years to live with the memories, to regain their self-respect and restore their faith in humanity.
Three were abused in the town of Galahad, about 150 kilometres southeast of Edmonton. Another was molested while visiting O’Neill in Grand Cache.
They were between the ages of 11 and 13 at the time.
Priest charged with 1972 sex assault on Galahad altar boy
25 March 1998
Charlie Gillis, Journal Staff Writer
A Roman Catholic priest who was the focus of a Journal investigative series has been charged with sexual assault against one of his former parishioners.
Rev. Patrick O’Neill, who worked nearly four decades in parishes across north-central Alberta, is facing a charge of indecent assault on a male.
He’s scheduled to make his first court appearance April 21 and remains at his Edmonton condominium. RCMP in Killam-Forestburg say their investigation remains under way, but no more charges are immediately pending.
The 62-year-old priest is accused of fondling a former altar boy’s genitals in the Galahad church and rectory in 1972.
RCMP are releasing few details, but say the alleged victim came to them after reading the in-depth newspaper stories that chronicled O’Neill’s 37-year career in the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton.
The stories sparked intense debate inside and outside the church when they appeared in The Journal last September.
“I think that’s what made (the victim) feel better about coming forward and telling his story,” said Const. Ron Mash of the RCMP detachment in Killam. “That’s definitely what started the whole thing.”
The complainant is now in his late 30s.
O’Neill grew up in Edmonton and was the Galahad parish priest from 1970 until 1973, when the archdiocese moved him to Grande Cache.
Since becoming a priest in 1960, he has also been sent to Clandonald, Drayton Valley,Red Deerand Holden. Former parishioners recall that he often worked with groups of youngsters, sometimes taking them on trips to pro hockey games and other events.
He left his last parish in 1989.
Archbishop Joseph MacNeil has refused in past interviews to discuss O’Neill’s history or status with the church, citing the possibility of future criminal or civil proceedings.
“When the civil authorities get involved, the internal review of the church must take a back seat,” he said.
MacNeil could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
The archbishop has, however, declared his support of “open discussion of the societal problem of sexual abuse.”
Galahad is about 170 km southeast of Edmonton.
Victim of fondling could no longer bear his dark secret
21 September 1997
Journal reporter Tom Barrett spent two months investigating how the Edmonton archdiocese has dealt with sexual misconduct by priests.
In cases where we’ve used first names only to identify sex abuse victims or their parents, the names are fictitious to preserve their privacy
Scott was trapped.
The 13-year-old boy lay in a sleeping bag on the rectory floor, desperately wanting to phone his parents. Maybe he could say he wanted to come home early. Maybe he wouldn’t have to tell them why.
As long as he didn’t have to follow orders and go into Father Patrick O’Neill’s bedroom.
For seven years he had endured the portly priest’s groping and fondling. The unwelcome hands on his genitals, the body thrust up against him in bed. And now there were signs O’Neill wanted to go further.
He knew it was wrong, but who could he tell? Who would believe him?
After an hour of pretending there was some way out, he began to face the cold facts. He couldn’t call his parents at 11 p.m. and ask them to drive all the way from Edmonton to Grande Cache. Not without telling them the truth. And he couldn’t disobey O’Neill. Even today he doesn’t understand why the priest had such control over him.
The three young boys O’Neill had brought over from Ireland were sleeping soundly nearby. They didn’t hear Scott moving past, tears running down his cheeks as he entered the room.
“What’s the matter?” Scott remembers the priest asking.
“You said you wanted to rape me,” the boy stammered.
“I shouldn’t tease you like that,” O’Neill replied. He only intended the usual fondling. The priest sent the shattered boy back to the living room. For this night he would be spared. “This is our little secret,” O’Neill reminded him.
Nearly 20 years later Scott decided to share the secret he had been hiding. Everything changed the day in 1995 when he learned someone he knew had also been sexually abused by O’Neill, about nine years before.
“Thank God, I wasn’t the only one,” he thought. The relief was immense. Then came the guilt. Would the other victim have been molested if he had come forward earlier? How many others might have been spared? He knew he had to stop it from happening again.
Scott decided to tell a family friend, Rev. Mike McCaffrey, chancellor of the Edmonton archdiocese of the Catholic church. He says he was shocked when McCaffrey told him the priest was a known pedophile, a persistent fondler of young boys.
No one but O’Neill knows for sure when his problem with young boys began, and he isn’t granting interviews. Archdiocesan officials are saying little about O’Neill, so it is unclear when they became aware.
The Journal has interviewed men who say they were molested by the priest as far back as 1971.
The first complaint about O’Neill was made to a priest at least 24 years ago.
O’Neill was born in Edmonton to a traditional Irish Catholic family 61 years ago. For decades the O’Neills were a fixture in the Norwood neighbourhood at112th Avenueand93rd Street. Like his four brothers and only sister, Patrick O’Neill was educated in the Catholic school system, graduating from St. Joseph’s high school and becoming a priest in 1960.
For the past 37 years he has moved around the archdiocese, beginning in Edmonton and going to Clandonald in 1970, Galahad in 1971, Grande Cache in 1973, Drayton Valley in 1981, Red Deer in 1982 and Holden in 1985. He is no longer allowed to say mass in any parish.
People speak of his love of reading, his fascination with history and particularly his passion for sports. But the main image they have of O’Neill is he always seems to have had a young boy or boys in tow.
Many boys speak warmly of the man who showed such a vivid interest in them, who took them on delightful trips and never laid a hand on them. But for others, the attention came with a hefty price tag.
When asked about allegations against O’Neill, Archbishop Joseph MacNeil replied, “That’s a very difficult question.
“I don’t think I’m free to talk about Father O’Neill,” he said. “I don’t think I should talk about somebody in a situation like this unless I’ve had that person’s permission.” No charges have been laid, he noted.
In a letter he sent to The Journal later, MacNeil explained that he felt obliged by confidentiality to all parties not to comment on any case.
“Overlying the internal church process is of course the real possibility of criminal or civil legal proceedings against an accused priest. When the civil authorities get involved, the internal review of the church must take a back seat,” he wrote.
“I encourage an open discussion of the societal problem of sexual abuse, while attempting to preserve some confidentiality on a case-by-case basis,” MacNeil added.
Scott and other victims interviewed by The Journal dismiss those comments as self-serving.
“It’s the church I can’t really forgive in this,” Scott says. “They have a responsibility to their parishes and to the kids. They put a lot of people in jeopardy.”
O’Neill recruited his victims in two ways. In each parish he worked, the priest gathered around him a group of young boys, mostly altar boys. He would take the youths out to movies, for pizza or for expensive dinners. They’d go on camping trips and other unsupervised outings, including Oilers hockey games. Some were abused, others weren’t.
O’Neill also brought in boys from out of town to stay at the rectory, sometimes for lengthy visits. Some were members of Christian youth groups, most were sons of men and women he had befriended and gained the trust of.
Allan still burns with anger over what O’Neill did to three of his sons more than 20 years ago.
He met the priest in Edmonton during the late 1960s and they quickly became friends. Allan gladly accepted when O’Neill offered in about 1971 to take the boys for a summer visit to his new parish in Galahad, about 170 km southeast of Edmonton. The boys later had more summer holidays with O’Neill at the Galahad and Grande Cache rectories, enjoying the country life and enduring the sexual abuse. The final time they only lasted a few days before calling and asking to come home early.
“It happened to me on the very first trip to Galahad,” says Allan’s son, Jack, who was about eight at the time. “I was sleeping in the rectory and he told me to come into his room.
“He asked me to lie down on the bed and then he took my pajamas off and began fondling me. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I was just scared.”
Jack, who is now a born-again Christian, says that on other occasions when O’Neill came into his room, he would pretend to be asleep, squeezing his eyes shut no matter how vigorously O’Neill tried to wake him.
Years later, one of his younger brothers made a scathing remark about the priest. Within minutes the silence was broken, as all three revealed they had been molested.
“I wanted it buried,” says Jack. “It was a nightmare really. You try hard to think it didn’t happen.”
He knows the experience has damaged him.
“It affects the way I deal with my boy,” he says, his voice breaking. “I’m not very affectionate. I do give him hugs sometimes, but some part of me holds back. I know it’s the reason.”
In 1987, Jack told a senior church official about the sexual abuse. The priest said O’Neill had already been treated for his problem with boys, was back in a parish, and everything was OK now.
Jack says that at a meeting he had requested, O’Neill admitted the abuse. O’Neill said he had been molested as a child and was being treated for his sexual problems with boys, Jack recalls.
A few years later Jack finally told his parents. They were devastated. Allan decided to confront his former friend.
In the early 1990s, he went to the Catholic Pastoral Centre in Edmonton, where O’Neill handles annulment requests.
“I said `why didn’t you come and apologize to me? You abused my children and you didn’t have the guts to come to me,’ ” Allan recalls.
“He said they told him not to say anything because he might have to go to court. He said he was abused himself as a child.”
Scott says that when they met with church officials in 1995, O’Neill told him and two other victims a similar story about being abused. But there was a key difference.
The priest acknowledged his deviant sexual urges and said he had received treatment for years. But he added that he suffered from a form of amnesia that made it difficult to remember specific acts of abuse.
“I thought that was very convenient,” Scott says with disgust.
O’Neill told Scott he searched his mind but couldn’t remember doing anything to him or the others at the meeting. If he did, he was sorry, he said.
He also sexually touched other boys in inappropriate but less intimate ways.
Dave Baker remembers meeting O’Neill through a Knights of Columbus youth program called Squires, more than 20 years ago. On a couple of occasions, Baker and four or five other 12- and 13-year-old boys accompanied the priest to the rectory in Galahad.
He recalls how O’Neill would sit before the television with a boy in front of him on a footstool.
“He would begin by rubbing my shoulders, then his hands would eventually find their way down the front of my pants,” Baker says. “His fingers would just reach my genital area.”
O’Neill performed similar acts on a camping trip to Penticton with Baker and his older brother, who was not touched. Baker says it was only a few years later when he was more mature that he realized what the priest was up to.
Two altar boys in Galahad found out much more quickly. One told The Journal how O’Neill twice got him to sit on his lap in the rectory. The priest then plunged his hand down the boy’s pants and fondled him.
“I would shove him away and he’d say `it’s OK, it’s OK, don’t worry about it.’ ”
O’Neill’s days in Galahad came to an abrupt end when another shaken altar boy informed his parents the priest was molesting him.
“It was sick,” the boy’s father says.
“I complained about it to the church and he was removed. I believe I called Father (Norbert) Schmeltzer, who was the Dean at that time. He was shocked. He promised me he would deal with it.”
The boy’s dad says O’Neill was transferred to Grande Cache a few weeks later.
A former Galahad altar boy and a member of a prominent local Catholic family confirmed the story of the boy’s complaint and its role in O’Neill’s sudden removal.
And a priest familiar with O’Neill’s departure from Galahad in the summer of 1973 also said he was moved for sexual misconduct with boys and that Monsignor Edmond Donahoe, chancellor of the archdiocese at the time, was involved in the move.
Donahoe and Schmeltzer are both dead. Church officials refuse to comment on O’Neill’s transfer, which occurred a few weeks after Archbishop Anthony Jordan retired and just before Joseph MacNeil arrived to take his place.
The priest’s transfer to Drayton Valleyin 1981 turned into a disaster that landed him in the Southdown Emmanuel Convalescent Foundation in Aurora, Ont., a treatment centre largely for alcoholic and pedophile priests.
Duane’s older sisters knew something was terribly wrong the night he came home from the Drayton Valley rectory in tears.
They pressed the 12-year-old boy for the truth. Finally he told them O’Neill had molested him after dropping the other altar boys off at their homes.
“Suddenly he shoved his hand down my drawers,” Duane says. “I shoved him away and said `No.’ I told him to take me home and he did.”
Duane wasn’t completely surprised. Other altar boys had already described how O’Neill had tried to fondle them on overnight trips to Oilers games. And another altar boy told The Journal how O’Neill groped boys at the rectory during games of hide-and-seek.
Despite those warnings Duane found the betrayal of trust difficult to shake off. It’s been 15 tough years, and he says he has neither forgotten nor forgiven.
“To this day if I ever see that man he’s going to get a licking,” he says with rising emotion. “It’s not nice to say that, but I was a little boy back then and I couldn’t do much about it. I’m not little anymore.”
Duane believes the incident with O’Neill changed his life.
“I rebelled immediately,” he says. “I stopped going to church and started taking drugs. It still affects me.”
This time it also affected O’Neill. Duane told his parents, and the next day they contacted most of the families of the other altar boys.
The following day Duane’s father and another parent went to Edmonton to talk to church officials, who quickly removed O’Neill.
Rev. Jack Hamilton, former chancellor of the Edmonton archdiocese, confirmed he made the move.
“Certainly there was something improper and terribly out of line in his behaviour in Drayton Valley,”Hamilton says.
“I do recall that when this came to me the archbishop was in Nova Scotia and I called him. He said to talk to Pat to get confirmation. I talked to him and indicated there had been a complaint. He acknowledged it was true.”
Later the church sent another priest to speak to the families.
Sam, whose altar-boy son was also groped by O’Neill, says he only got two points out of the priest’s comments. Forgive and be quiet.
“All he talked about was protecting the image of the church,” Sam says “He said they were sending O’Neill to Ontario to get help and everything would be OK.”
The parents of another Drayton Valleyaltar boy whom O’Neill fondled say their son became estranged from the church and showed a growing distrust for authority figures. And in later years their son suffered from severe depression, as has Sam’s son.
Catherine Hedlin, director of Edmonton’s Sexual Assault Centre, says people commonly underestimate the impact of sexual groping.
“Fondling can be extremely damaging to a victim,” she says. “It can have serious, long-term effects.”
It’s not just the actual act that’s important, she says. It’s the sense of betrayal that causes the damage, especially when the fondling is done by a trusted authority figure.
O’Neill was named assistant pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Red Deer in 1982 because his treatment reports from Southdown were favourable and he was under the supervision of Rev. Carl Raab, Hamilton says.
But a priest familiar with the O’Neill story said he discovered the priest was taking boys on unsupervised trips, including to Oilers hockey games, while he was inRed Deer.
A fellow patient at Southdown offered an explanation of why O’Neill may have continued to have problems even after treatment there.
That person, who was recovering from a nervous breakdown, says he was unlike anyone else in therapy sessions they shared for a month in 1982. While other participants bared their soul, O’Neill basically refused to talk.
“He was very much on his guard. He wouldn’t share anything with anybody. He would simply say everything was fine,” the person recalls.
“At the end of the month I knew everyone else very well because of what we had shared. I didn’t know him at all.”
The problems resurfaced while O’Neill was the parish priest in Holden, from 1985 to 1989. Jim says O’Neill molested him in a hotel in White Rock, B.C., in about 1988. Two young boys from Holden were asleep in the next bed, he says.
The Edmonton boy, who was about 12 at the time, says he woke up early in the morning and O’Neill said something like “let’s try this” before lifting him up and placing him on top of his body.
“Then he just kind of poked me in the genitals,” Jim says. “I was just petrified. I was lying there with my hands at my side, frozen.”
O’Neill eventually put him back down again. Peter Fleming of Holden confirms he was sleeping with a friend in the next bed, but says he didn’t see anything happen.
Fleming had only good experiences with O’Neill in many years as an altar boy and on numerous trips with him, including one to Ireland.
Jim didn’t tell anyone what happened, but the memory haunted him. Finally, in 1995, he confided in his sister. A few weeks later he told the church.
The Journal made extensive attempts to interview O’Neill. Repeated phone calls to his condominium home went unanswered and no one responded to the bell.
Recent calls to the marriage counselling centre at the Chancery office confirmed O’Neill has not been at work for more than a month. The secretary said he was not on holiday but she had no idea when he would be back. O’Neill is in the area and occasionally calls in to pick up messages, she said.
McCaffrey told The Journal that O’Neill asked him to send the message that he had no wish to talk to the media.
McCaffrey said he felt very uncomfortable discussing the O’Neill case but agreed it was fair to say the priest had been removed from parishes for inappropriate sexual conduct with young boys, had received extensive treatment for his condition and was no longer allowed to do any parish work.
“We have no indication of anything happening in the last three or four years,” he emphasized. Counselling paid for by the church is available to any victims who come forward, McCaffrey said.
“We do feel he’s getting help and counselling and he’s trying to deal with it the best way he can.”
McCaffrey said O’Neill is an adult and the church has only so much control over his conduct. “We don’t have someone watching him 24 hours a day.”
When asked if he had admitted to Scott that O’Neill was a pedophile, McCaffrey hesitated for a few seconds before saying “OK, yeah sure.”
Later he said he had talked to the archbishop and they decided no more specific comments would be made about O’Neill.
O’Neill has not worked in a parish since he left Holden in 1989, but that has not ended his unsupervised contact with boys.
After three years in Ottawa studying church law, he returned to Edmonton in 1993 and worked as the chaplain at St. Joseph’sAuxiliaryHospitalat10707 29th Ave.Soon he befriended a family of devout Catholics, who had a relative in the hospital.
One day O’Neill asked the parents if he could take their boys on a trip to Wetaskiwin. They agreed.
Nothing untoward happened on the trip, but a few days later the boys told their parish priest, Rev. Martin Carroll, about the outing. Carroll was the priest who replaced O’Neill in Drayton Valley.
He immediately sent a nun to the family’s house to warn them about O’Neill.
And, as recently as 1994, O’Neill regularly took young boys to Oilers games. An acquaintance of his who shared a pair of season tickets just behind his seats says every time she saw him at a game he was accompanied by a boy.
McCaffrey says he didn’t know until Scott told him in September 1995 that O’Neill had been making regular trips to Northern Ireland for 30 years, often in the company of young boys.
“I do know that as soon as we heard about the Ireland trips we told him not to go,” he says. “We don’t know if anything happened.”
It has been a long journey for Scott, who considered suicide at one time, but survived, married and has gone on to build a strong family life and career.
He considered asking the police to file charges against O’Neill. But he worried the grinding experience of a public trial might shatter the life he had struggled to rebuild. Besides, he was worried it would just be his word against a respected priest’s. Many of the other victims expressed similar views.
Most just want O’Neill and the church to acknowledge the abuse they suffered and ensure it doesn’t happen to any more kids.
Scott has hired a lawyer and asked O’Neill and the church to meet certain conditions to make it more difficult for the priest to molest other children. The matter is still being negotiated.
He says church leaders have responded almost purely legalistically. He came to them hoping people with good hearts could find a solution together, but concluded they were more interested in legal liability than moral accountability.
They did provide effective counselling, for which he’s grateful. But he believes much of the damage done is irreparable.
“I feel like I lost a lot of me when I was a kid and I don’t know that I ever got that back,” he says. “I just wish sometimes I could go back and get a fresh start, but I can’t.”
Respond is a support group for parents whose children have been sexually abused by priests and for abuse victims who need to talk to someone. You can reach the group by:
Fax: 403 438-5726
Oliver, post office