Rev. James Roth died of an apparent suicide in February during an unpublicized investigation of a U.S. complaint.
A GTA Catholic school board did not disclose to parents recent allegations that a board priest had sexually assaulted a child a decade ago in the United States, while the Archdiocese of Toronto made the allegations public only this week — nearly three months after they surfaced.
Although the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and the archdiocese were kept informed throughout the investigation into Rev. James Roth by his U.S.-based religious order, they repeatedly chose not to publicly reveal the allegations until Thursday, when the Star began making inquiries. That was almost two months after the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales deemed the allegations credible.
The archdiocese now has a statement on its website. The school board, which briefed staff earlier this week, said it will “make an exception” and post a statement as well, likely on Friday, said spokesman Bruce Campbell.
“It’s not our practice to communicate, on a broad basis, on issues where a staff member may be charged criminally or there are allegations against them,” said Campbell, when asked why the board didn’t speak up sooner.
The decision to keep quiet for several months is troubling, say critics, who point out that it’s imperative to make allegations public immediately so that other possible victims feel comfortable coming forward.
The Oblates removed Roth from his position as priest-in-residence at Dufferin-Peel on Jan. 21, the day after the complainant’s lawyer informed them of the abuse allegation. The complainant said the priest had sexually assaulted him several times 14 years ago in Michigan, when he was about 9 years old.
The Mississauga-based school board, the archdiocese and Michigan police were informed of the allegation. The public was not.
On Feb. 11, Roth, 61, died of an insulin overdose, which the Oblates believe was a suicide, although the coroner has yet to make a final ruling. Among his belongings was a note confessing to the allegation, which the Oblates gave to the police.
The Oblates’ Review Board officially confirmed the allegation Feb. 20. The board consists of two social workers, a psychologist, an educator and a judge, who examine allegations made against members of the order.
The school board and the archdiocese were told of this latest development, but the public remained in the dark.
After the Oblates personally reached out to families and friends they believed may have had close interactions with Roth in the U.S. and Ontario, but failed to receive any new allegations, they posted a statement to their website at the end of March, encouraging any other victims to come forward.
Only then did the school board’s executive (director of education John Kostoff and two associate directors, in conjunction with legal counsel) decide to notify staff, though not parents, said Campbell. He said Kostoff would not be commenting.
Roth’s duties included working in schools with students and staff, but Campbell said it would always have been in the presence of a supervisor. He said Roth had cleared a criminal background check and that there were no allegations against him when he arrived at the board in 2008.
“The fact that the board didn’t tell students, didn’t tell parents, I think displays a lack of care and responsibility,” said Ryan Rocca, a Grade 11 student in the school district, who did not know Roth personally, he said, because the priest never came to his school.
It was important that the Oblates carry out their probe before the archdiocese notify the public, said archdiocese spokesman Neil MacCarthy. He said the decision to release a statement had nothing to do with the Star’s inquiries.
“Our public statement (on Thursday) as well as the Dufferin-Peel CDSB communication comes within two weeks of similar communication in the United States,” he said. “As Fr. Roth is deceased, and there wasn’t any potential for additional harm, we felt this was a reasonable period of time.”
Roth also served as a chaplain at Ryerson University from 2004 to 2008 under the authority of the archdiocese, but was not a university employee.
The Oblates first wanted to reach out to families and friends because “the abuse had happened in a family (Roth) had befriended and not an institution,” Father Ken McKenna, the provincial of the Toledo-Detroit Province, told the Star.
“It’s been a very heartbreaking and shocking allegation to all of us,” he said.
“There have never been allegations against Father Roth before this. At this point, we just encourage any victims of any sexual abuse, from any member of the clergy or employees of Catholic schools or churches, to come forward with the accusation so that we can make the world a safer place for children, and hopefully we can be part of their healing process.”
McKenna said Roth, who was born in Lockport, N.Y., arrived in Ontario in the 1990s to study at the Toronto School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree in 1995.
The decision to wait several months to notify the public is “disappointing,” said Toronto lawyer Simona Jellinek, who almost exclusively represents survivors of sexual assault. She criticized the Oblates’ decision to reach out to specific individuals before issuing a statement.
“It’s disappointing that they pick and choose who they tell, because it limits the ability of everyone to take appropriate steps,” she said.
Jellinek said that even though Roth is dead and cannot be charged, coming forward is still important for the victims’ healing process, helping them to realize they’re not alone and to access support.
The U.S. man who made the allegations against Roth came into contact with the priest as the brother of a student at a Michigan high school where Roth taught, his lawyer, Khary Hanible, told the Star.
Hanible said his client is still considering litigation options, and that he only learned that Roth had admitted to the allegation through U.S. media.
“I believe he wishes … that Father Roth had taken responsibility,” he said.
Jacques Gallant can be reached at 416-869-4194 or firstname.lastname@example.org