Ex-St. Catharines bishop implicated in coverup

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St. Catharine’s Standard

10 April 2010


As local Catholics puzzle Friday over the sudden resignation of their bishop, his predecessor was implicated in the coverup of sexual abuse by a priest in Pembroke.

Former St. Catharines bishop John O’Mara was named by former Pembroke bishop Joseph Windle in a 1993 letter to the Vatican’s ambassador in Ottawa. O’Mara was named as part of a group of Ontario bishops who backed Windle’s recommendation that the abuse of minors by a Pembroke priest be kept silent.St. Catherine’s Standard

The priest in question, Father Bernard Prince, had been shipped off to Rome and became a friend of then Pope John Paul II. In his letter, Windle was deeply concerned that if the Vatican graced the priest with any attention or honours, it would expose the abuse and create a scandal.

“The consequences of such an action would be disastrous, not only for the Canadian Church but for the Holy See as well, given the climate which exists in Canada at this time,” Windle wrote, noting that honouring Prince in anyway would “prove extremely embarrassing to the Holy See and to the Diocese of Pembroke, not to mention the possibility of criminal charges being laid and a civil lawsuit ensuing.”

Prince was convicted in 2008 of sexually molesting 13 boys between 1964 and 1984, and was formally defrocked by Pope Benedict XVI last year.

He was sent to Rome and became a Vatican official in 1991 after church officials in Canada first heard from a victim of his crimes. In his letter, which became public Friday as part of a civil case against the Pembroke Diocese and Prince, Windle supported the move even in light of the seriousness of the allegations.

“I would not object to him being given another chance since it would remove him from the Canadian scene,” Windle wrote.

By 1993, further allegations against Prince surfaced. Windle explained in his letter there were four or five known victims and at least one of them was asking pointed questions about how the church was handling the situation.

Still, Windle believed the Church could keep the situation secret because the victims were unlikely to go to the police or the press.

“One redeeming factor is that it would appear that the victims involved are of Polish descent and their respect for the priesthood and the Church has made them refrain from making these allegations public or laying criminal charges against a priest,” he wrote. “Had this happened elsewhere there would be every danger that charges would have been laid long ago with all the resultant scandal.”

In order to prevent that scandal, Windle recommended that the Vatican not give Prince any honours as that might upset his victims and prompt them to come forward.

He wrote that all the bishops in Ontario agreed with his assessment of how to handle Prince and his crimes, naming four archbishops and two bishops, including John O’Mara, who was then the bishop of Thunder Bay.

These men were involved with Prince directly or indirectly, Windle wrote.

O’Mara did not return repeated messages from The Standard Friday. Windle’s letter does not explain how or when O’Mara was involved with Prince.

O’Mara left Thunder Bay to become the bishop of St. Catharines in 1994. He held that post until 2001, when he retired and was replaced in 2002 by Bishop James Wingle.

Wingle, formerly a priest in the Pembroke Diocese and the bishop of Yarmouth, N.S., resigned from his Niagara post Tuesday. In a letter to the St. Catharines Diocese, Wingle said he no longer had the stamina his duties required and he is taking a sabbatical of “prayer and personal renewal.” No details regarding his resignation were given, and staff at the diocese office were not told why he was leaving beyond the reasons in his letter.


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