priest Diocese of London, Ontario. Ordained 1948. GUILTY plea 2006 to sex abuse of 47 girls ages 7 to 15 between 1954 and 1986. Died in jail. Civil trial 2011.
(The above lawsuit, which was initially scheduled for two to three weeks commencing 22 September 2014, was settled out of court)
January 2007: died in jail three months into a three year prison sentence
August 2006: pleaded GUILTY to sexual abuse of 47 young girls age 7 to 15 between 1954 and 1986
2000, 1998, 1995: 1623 Elmwood Ave., Belle River, Ontario
1993: 1024 Goyeau St., Windsor, Ontario
1991: address for St. Clement RC Church, McGregor, Ontario (Pastor, Father D.H. Duchene)
1980: St. Ursula, Chathem, Ontario (with Father J.A. Lamermeier
1973-74, 1971-72: Pastor, St. Ursula, Chathem, Ontario
1968-69, 1967: pastor, St. Cecilia RC Church, Port Dover, Ontario
1959: Pastor, St.Thomas Aquinas, Sarnia, Ontario (assisting, Father J. P. Beneteau)
23 July 2011: Abuse victims struggle with mental health problems
26 April 2011: Avoid trials, says abuse survivor
21 April 2011: Church forgiven in abuse coverup
02 April 2011: Sylvestre moved to ‘protect faithful’
30 October 2011: Abuse survivors hurt by words
25 March 2011: What the bishop knew
Sylvestre victim testifies in civil trial
Chatham Daily News
16 March 2011
By JANE SIMS, QMI AGENCY
Kelly Murphy-Myers is not unlike many of Charles Sylvestre’s victims. Raised in a devoutly Roman Catholic family in Chatham, she was a happy, well-adjusted primary pupil at St. Ursula’s school in Chatham.
Until the end of Gr. 3.
That’s when her friendly parish priest, who made her feel special, started his abuse of her at the church, at the school and on the playground over the next two years.
“I felt bad about myself. I was confused and hurt and scared,” she testified in a London court Tuesday.
“I didn’t understand why this man was hurting me.”
What sets Murphy-Myers apart from the other Sylvestre victims –Southwestern Ontario’s worst case of abuse at the hands of a cleric –is that her civil case is the first of 77 filed that’s gone to trial without a settlement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of London.
Sylvestre died behind bars in 2007, months into a prison sentence for 47 convictions of indecent assault against 47 girls.
Murphy-Myers’s $3.5-million lawsuit names the diocese and former Bishop John Sherlock. She wasn’t part of the criminal prosecution against the priest.
Tuesday, Murphy-Myers, 41, a cell phone salesperson from Chatham, testified in Ontario Superior Court, describing the abuse at the hands of the disgraced priest that began when she was only 8, sending her life in a tragic direction.
Superior Court Justice David Little has also heard that Murphy-Myers’ father contacted another Chatham priest in 1979 after his daughter disclosed the abuse to his wife. That priest, Rev. John Betkowski, has testified he went to Sherlock directly and told him of “inappropriate touching” by Sylvestre involving an unnamed victim.
Shortly after, Sylvestre was removed from the St. Ursula’s parish and sent to nearby Pain Court. Murphy-Myers described a warm and loving home life with three brothers. She was adopted when she was only a month old and her parents each year marked both a birthday and a “happy day” for her adoption. Her parents were always her biggest boosters when she danced, figure-skated and was involved in school sports. She had a neighbourhood full of kids to play with and a best friend who lived down the street. Her family went to mass each Sunday at St. Ursula’s church and the only priest she remembered was Sylvestre.
Just before she began Gr. 4, she and her pal went into the newly-built church after roller- skating on the new, smooth asphalt parking lot, to pray that her friend’s dog would come home.
Murphy-Myers described Sylvestre sitting between them and putting one arm around each. She was taught, she said, the priest, “was the nearest thing to God.” After that exchange, Sylvestre often came out of the church to watch the kids roller-skate. Once in awhile, she’d go into his office just to talk.
“He made me feel special. He made me want to hang out with him,” she said. He let her call him Charlie. She considered him to be a friend. He would always give her a hug, like he did other children.
At the end of Gr. 3, Murphy- Myers said he kissed her “like your aunt kisses you at Christmas.”
But the kisses soon became more intense, with the priest putting his tongue in her mouth. “He asked me if I liked it,” she said.
He would sometimes brush her breast area outside the clothing. But the signal that things would become more confusing was a day when he had her on his lap in his office, unzipped her jumper and put his hand inside. He was interrupted by a secretary walking in and launched the little girl off his lap. “That incident confused me and frightened me,” she said. She threw the jumper in the garbage.
Gr. 4 saw the assaults become weekly, more intrusive and unwanted. Sylvestre would select Murphy-Myers from the classroom to fold bulletins. He’d get her alone in his office or the rectory, hug and kiss her and touch her both over and under the clothes. He often smelled of alcohol. He always wanted her to sit on his lap. “I can remember trying to change the way I dressed so it would be more difficult to have access to me,” Murphy-Myers said.
The assaults became more intrusive, with Sylvestre grabbing her inside her underwear. “I was really, really scared,” she said. When her big crinoline under her dress caused her to slip off, Sylvestre repeatedly hauled her back, grabbing under her skirt, until he was sexually assaulting her.
No one saw it.
She recalled looking toward her teacher and wondering “why aren’t you helping me?”
When Murphy-Myers would stop visiting the priest, he’d call her house. She said her mother wanted her to go back and was proud that she was “a really good little Catholic girl.”
She started to pretend to be sick so she wouldn’t go to school
She couldn’t concentrate for fear Sylvestre would arrive to take her out of class.
She couldn’t do her homework and thought “there’s no way God would let this happen.”
The last assault involved Sylvestre exposing himself and asking her to touch him.
“I don’t know how it ended. I assume I left,” she said.
After that incident, she says she must have told her parents –she doesn’t remember –but knows she never had to return to church and was placed in a public school the following year.
She started Gr. 6, but was put back to Gr. 5.
She retreated into her shell and stopped all activities.
When she finally found out Sylvestre had left Chatham, she regained some of her self- esteem.
In high school, she was placed in the general program and was a cheerleader to satisfy her parents’ expectations.
As a relationship with a boyfriend when she was 16 intensified, she tried to kill herself by taking her mother’s heart medication.
Murphy-Myers told her mother it was because of Sylvestre. She was told to “suck it up” and not let it control her.
She went on to get her hairstyling diploma.
Years later, in 2005, she finished her degree in psychology from the University of Windsor.
The trial continues.
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– – – CHARLES SYLVESTRE BY THE NUMBERS
47: Convictions of indecent assault in 2006 involving 47 girls from parishes he served in Windsor, Sarnia, London, Chatham and Pain Court over four decades.
3:His prison sentence.
3 months: Time the disgraced priest served in prison before dying at 84.
64: Civil cases involving Sylvestre settled by the Roman Catholic Diocese of London.
13: Cases yet to be settled
By CanWest News Service
April 7, 2007
WINDSOR, Ont. — Four women who were sexually abused by a priest when they were children will receive an undisclosed sum of money in a settlement reached with the diocese of London in southwestern Ontario.
The four are among 59 women who have sued the diocese over the abuse committed by Charles Sylvestre, a convicted sex offender and priest.
Sylvestre died in prison in January at the age of 84, only a few months into serving a three-year sentence.
“We are not disclosing the amounts because the women don’t want them known and it complicates future settlements,” said Robert Talach, who is representing 24 of the women.
The four cases settled Thursday were fast-tracked partly because they involve some of the oldest victims, but also because of the fragile health of some of the women, Talach said.
One of the women, Vivian Dobbs, 65, was in Grade 7 when she was molested, Talach said.
“She was in a play Sylvestre had written and as a reward to cast members they went on a picnic with him,” Talach said.
“He assaulted her in the water when he offered to teach her how to swim. To this day she’s had difficulty going into the water at beaches. It’s haunted her her whole life.” Talach said
Dobbs returned to her home in British Columbia “a whole new person” after the settlement was reached.
The other complainants who will receive money include another 65-year-old Windsor woman who was abused in 1954, a 56-year old victim who attended St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Sarnia, Ont., and a 44-year-old victim who attended St. Ursula’s in Chatham, Ont.
At least two women reported the sexual abuse to authorities, which resulted in the diocese transferring Sylvestre to another parish, according to a press release issued by the Ledroit Beckett law firm in London.
Bishop Ronald Fabbro said, “money cannot compensate the victims adequately and reconciliation is the goal,” according to a news release on the diocese web site.
Diocese finds it had reports on pedophile priest
Lobdon Free Press
Thursday, 21 December 2006
By JANE SIMS, FREE PRESS JUSTICE REPORTER
Abuse files discovered ‘We see this as a matter of justice’
In a shocking revelation yesterday, the Roman Catholic diocese of London admitted it has been in possession of three police reports from 1962 detailing the sexual abuse of three victims by disgraced priest Charles Sylvestre.
The Sarnia police reports were found tucked away in the back of a filing cabinet among accounting papers at the diocesan offices and not in Sylvestre’s personnel file. Their discovery provides the smoking gun for plaintiffs in civil suits showing the diocese knew of Sylvestre’s abusive behaviour before he was moved from parish to parish across Southwestern Ontario.
Chatham-Kent police have been asked to investigate.
Failing to disclose the information during the criminal case is potentially a criminal offence, said Chatham-Kent Crown attorney Paul Bailey.
“The Chatham-Kent police service have been asked to look into the circumstances of the non-disclosure to satisfy themselves with respect to if this was an inadvertent non-disclosure or otherwise,” he said.
Bishop Ronald Fabbro said the surprise discovery was made in late October — after Sylvestre, 84, was sentenced to three years in prison for 47 counts of indecent assault on young girls — by a diocese office clerk who has worked there for more than 10 years.
The reports were among papers concerning other priests found at the back of the file. They were found during a search of records for the civil court process.
Fabbro said he immediately turned the reports over to lawyers involved in the civil case against the diocese and Sylvestre — 41 actions have been filed and there are six other possible claims.
“It was distressing to find out that we had those documents and weren’t aware of them,” he said. “When these claims come forward, we have an obligation as a diocese to do a search of our files and present the individuals involved those documents.”
Fabbro said he doesn’t believe the documents were intentionally hidden because the information was among other non-sensitive personnel material concerning other priests.
“It didn’t look like it was being hidden on that basis. It looked like it was just lost and forgotten about.” Fabbro has asked the staff to conduct a thorough search of all documents.
Sylvestre was moved from parish to parish across the region during over more than 30 years.
His victims in the criminal case date as far back as 1952 and extends to 1989.
The case involved churches in Windsor, Sarnia, Chatham and Pain Court.
Sylvestre was also posted at Mount St. Joseph academy in London in the 1950s. Twenty-nine of the victims in the criminal case were from St. Ursula’s parish in Chatham. E
very victim had their breasts fondled. For others, the abuse escalated to touching underclothes, digital penetration, masturbation and rape.
The new documents have the potential to re-open civil cases settled in the 1990s.
London civil lawyer Barbara Legate, representing 30 victims, settled Sylvestre cases a decade ago after being told the diocese didn’t know anything about Sylvestre’s abuses.
“We were told there was no way (for the diocese to know). This is a guy who did it in a covered-up way. If the little girls didn’t come forward, how are we (the diocese) supposed to know?”
She questioned why important police information was not passed along between bishops and left unnoticed in a file cabinet.
Shortly after the 1962 police interviews, Sylvestre was sent away for a year, presumably for alcohol counselling, before he was back as a parish priest.
“Now we have proof one of the moves is tied directly to disclosure by the girls of abuse and he is taken away for a year,” Legate said. “What’s outrageous is the negligent way these documents have been mishandled over the years.”
Legate applauded Fabbro’s efforts in “doing the right things” but said “the church has a long way to go before I think my clients are going to think they are on their side.” —
TRANSCRIPT OF A SARNIA POLICE INTERVIEW WITH A GIRL
Interview conducted Jan. 17, 1962 about 6:30 p.m.
Q: Do you know Father Sylvestre?
Q: Has he ever touched you on your privates?
A: Last Monday maybe. I am not sure.
Q: How many times has he done this?
A: A lot of times.
Q: When he touched you did he take your clothes off?
Q: Did he ever expose himself to you?
A: Yes, he let me put my hand on it.
Q: Was anyone else present?
A: Yes (name blacked out).
Q: How long did he make you hold onto his penis?
A: Not too long, about two minutes.
Q: Where did this happen?
A: In the priest’s home.
Q: Did he ever give you milk to drink?
A: Yes, I fell asleep and he put his thing on me. I know this because I woke up.
Q: Where did he put his thing on you?
A: Right here (Gestures between her legs).
Q: Were your pants down?
Q: When did this happen?
A: I am not sure, think it was last year.
Q: Do you know any other girls?
Q: How old are you?
A: (Blacked out).
Q: Did the priest say anything to you when you touched his penis?
Q: Did he warn you not to tell anyone?
Q: Do you know what an oath is?
A: I don’t know what oath (is) but I know what to tell the truth is.
Q: Did the priest tell you it was alright to touch his penis?
A: He never said anything.
‘Guilty’ 47 Times
Rev. Charles Sylvestre Admits to Decades of Sexual Abuse Involving 47 Girls – Many Still Suffering
London Free Press
04 August 2006
By Jane Sims Chatham
— He wore his priest’s collar to win trust and respect in Roman Catholic parishes across the region. The collar gave him an exalted place in the communities. The collar, many believed, also meant he was just a step away from God.
Yesterday, Charles Henry Sylvestre, 83, of Belle River, was wearing the collar again — but this time in a criminal court, under the watchful eyes of his 47 sexual abuse victims.
|Carol Ann Mieras speaks to reporters outside the Chatham courthouse. She is wearing a shirt featuring a photo of herself when she was 11 years old, a time when she was sexually assaulted by Father Charles Sylvestre, a Catholic priest. Photo by DEREK RUTTAN, The London Free Press|
Balancing himself against the table beside his lawyer, Andrew Bradie of Windsor, Sylvestre stood for 25 minutes as the court clerk read out the 47 counts of indecent assault.
“Guilty,” the 83-year-old said feebly, after each charge was read.
Behind him in the packed courtroom, women dabbed their eyes.
Irene Deschenes of London, who along with 10 others asked the court-ordered publication ban be lifted from their names, smiled, leaned forward and put her hand to her ear to be sure Sylvestre was admitting abusing her.
It was the start of a heartbreaking day in the Ontario Court of Justice, as victim after victim — all women — came forward to have the abuses described. For most, their lives were irrevocably changed.
The case, Chatham-Kent Crown Attorney Paul Bailey said, is North America’s largest case of non-residential school sex abuse by a Roman Catholic priest. The case is so large, there was only time to hear from 21 victims yesterday.
Justice Bruce Thomas is expected to hear the rest Sept. 22.
The abuse dates as far back as 1952 and extends to 1989 when the victims were between nine and 14. It involved churches in Windsor, Sarnia, Chatham and Pain Court.
Two victims were students at Mount St. Joseph academy in London when Sylvestre was the chaplain in the 1950s.
Twenty-nine of the victims were members of St. Ursula’s parish in Chatham. All are asking why the abuse was allowed to continue so long.
Bradie said while his client acknowledged the abuses in his guilty pleas, his memories of the events have faded.
Bailey described each abuse at the hands of the priest, and noted many times the victims were made to feel “special” by the priest’s initial attention.
Many said they were “good Catholic girls” who attended church regularly and were raised in devout families.
Many were offered chocolate bars and pop when they sat on the priest’s lap while he groped them and bounced them on his groin.
Many were assaulted after being “chosen” by Sylvestre to volunteer at the rectory or the church to fold bulletins, tidy worship areas, to count the collection.
Some were assaulted on beach day trips Sylvestre organized.
Others were groped and fondled in his car.
Some were assaulted during church confession.
They were told to stay quiet or they would be punished by God.
Every one was just entering puberty.
Some spoke of just “budding.”
Every one of them had their breasts fondled.
Sylvestre shoved his hands down the pants of some to fondle their genitals, and some were digitally penetrated.
Two of the women said they were raped by Sylvestre.
Lou Ann Soontiens, of Chatham, a victim who had the publication ban lifted, through Bailey, said she had an abortion at 15 after she was impregnated by the trusted priest after years of abuse.
“I feel he robbed me of my childhood and took it away from me,” her statement read. “I believe God should have been there for me.”
Bradie told Thomas his client doesn’t admit to any sexual intercourse or penetration but to the other described abuses. Bailey said only a trial could resolve that and, “with some regret,” the Crown wasn’t prepared to wait any longer to move forward.
The sexual intercourse allegations will be tried at the civil level.
Thomas accepted Bradie’s submission and found Sylvestre guilty based on his other abuses of the women.
Many bravely read their own victim impact statements, often through tears and anger. Others listened to Bailey read their words. Their stories were personal and emotional.
They spoke of lifelong struggles with trust and intimacy, self-esteem problems, rebellious angry pasts, addictions and depression.
Some were suicidal.
Many expressed shame and guilt when their stories weren’t believed.
Some said they thought, “I was a child and I did nothing wrong,” said Joanne Morrison, 46, of White Rock, B.C. “I will not hide behind shame or guilt anymore.”
Only two, who confided in parents and were supported, said they had little if any long-term fallout from the abuse.
The case led to an unprecedented response by the Roman Catholic diocese of London yesterday, with Bishop Ronald Fabbro issuing an apology to the victims and their families for the abuse and “for the failure of the church to protect the victims and their families from Father Sylvestre.”
Fabbro is to preach a mass Sunday at St. Ursula’s church in Chatham where he will formally apologize.
Many of the victims are seeking civil remedies.
Yesterday, London lawyer Barbara Legate filed a lawsuit on behalf of 22 women, naming not only the diocese but school boards, nuns and Sarnia police.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of London issued a statement yesterday in which Bishop Ronald Fabbro expressed his regret for Rev. Charles Sylvestre’s abuse:
I sincerely apologize to the victims and their families for the abuse that they endured at the hands of Fr. Sylvestre, and for suffering the consequences of that abuse over the years. I apologize as well for the failure of the Church to protect the victims and their families from Fr. Sylvestre. The abuse of minors has been a scourge in the Diocese of London that must end, and I pledge myself as the Bishop of London to do my utmost to end it. How the lives of three women, including Irene Deschene, right, were turned inside out by their abuse as children.
Pedophile priest could walk free
Victims of pedophile priest Charles Sylvestre reacted with anger and despair Friday after learning their childhood abuser would walk away a free man if found unfit to stand trial.
23 September 2006
CHATHAM – Victims of pedophile priest Charles Sylvestre reacted with anger and despair Friday after learning their childhood abuser would walk away a free man if found unfit to stand trial.
The sentencing hearing for the retired Catholic priest, who confessed last month to sexually abusing 47 girls between 1952 and 1986, came to an abrupt halt Friday after his lawyer made the surprise revelation that Sylvestre may be mentally unfit to face criminal proceedings.
The halt meant many victims, who came ready to read victim impact statements in front of Sylvestre, 84, and the judge, were denied that opportunity.
“On Aug. 3 when I had my day in court, I was strong, I didn’t shed a tear, because it was all about me,” said Tecumseh’s Mary Beth Studnicka, who came to support fellow victims. “Today, I just wept for them.”
“One of the victims who would have spoken (Friday), minutes before the judge came she said to me, ‘I feel I’m on the edge of a cliff and I’m ready to fly.’ She was so prepared for today. When we were given that news, my fear for her, you know, she’d be more inclined to jump from that cliff.”
Court was scheduled Friday so about half of the women could give victim impact statements before an Oct. 6 sentencing. That day will now be set aside to determine if Sylvestre is fit to stand trial. If he is found unfit, defence lawyer Andrew Bradie said the criminal case will end. “If he is not fit to stand trial he will not go to jail,” said Bradie.
Crown attorney Paul Bailey said there would no recourse. “It would end there,” he said. “We’d be dead in the water.”
Bailey said he didn’t know what effect that would have on Sylvestre’s guilty pleas. “I don’t know yet,” said Bailey. “That remains to be determined. I need to see the report first.”
Bradie said he became concerned after Sylvestre’s sister, who lives with him in Belle River, expressed worries about the man’s mental state.
The defence lawyer hired a psychiatrist who found Sylvestre doesn’t have the mental capacity to understand the criminal charges and what is happening in court.
“He has come to the conclusion that as of today, he is unfit to stand trial,” said Bradie. The defence’s psychiatrist found the retired priest is confused and disoriented, Bradie said.
Sylvestre also has impaired short-term memory and trouble with abstract reasoning and language. When questioned outside court, Bradie wouldn’t elaborate. “I’m not going to get into a lot of detail about that,” he said. “I know he was having some significant problems at home which involved, at least in part, falling down repeatedly, some confusion, some forgetfulness. Enough to cause me concern.”
The court-appointed psychiatrist will make a separate assessment.
Many people including victims and a nun, who once worked with troubled youth alongside Sylvestre, thought he might be faking it.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Sister Eleanor Gleeson, General Superior of the Ursuline Sisters of the Diocese of London. “I wish I could support it, but I don’t. I find it very difficult. I find it very heartbreaking for the victims.”
Bradie said only a psychiatrist could make the determination. “The rest of you aren’t psychiatrists and neither are the victims or the victims’ families or support people,” he said. “I appreciate they have a concern these proceedings are being unnecessarily protracted. For anyone to suggest that somehow, watching him from a distance can determine this is all a ploy of some sort, is in my submission unreasonable.”
Bailey had asked that Sylvestre be put in custody during the assessment to ensure he was doing everything possible to stay fit, including taking any necessary medication.
“We need to have an assessment which assures there is no possibility of someone manipulating the system,” Bailey said.
But Justice Bruce Thomas said there was no justification for that.
Victim Joanne Morrison, who was assaulted up to four times a week for four years in Chatham, said she thinks Sylvestre will escape justice.
“He won,” said Morrison, who came from her British Columbia home for the proceedings. “He manipulated everyone into getting exactly what he wanted. He won. There was a lot of shock, a lot of anger. They have taken away 25 women’s rights to go in front of a judge and give their impact statements.”
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