How Catholic church turned blind eye to child sex abuse by priests

Share Button

Toronto Star
Saturday Date:  2/10/1990
Section:NEWS Page:A011 Edition:SA2

By Kevin Donovan Toronto Star

First of a three part series.

Star reporter Kevin Donovan spent three months travelling across Canada for his three part series on the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. Here is the first of his reports.

* * *

Some bishops and other Roman Catholic Church officials across Canada heard allegations of priests molesting children as far back as the 1960s, yet took little or no action to stop the abuse, a Star investigation has revealed.

Instead, the priests were shunted from parish to parish, transferred to other provinces or simply allowed to remain at their own church.

As a result, many more children were abused and hundreds of tormented victims suffered on in silence.

From one end of the country to the other, this practice kept the image-damaging cases of pedophilia secret from police, social workers and the public, according to court documents and interviews with police, crown attorneys, victims, bishops and priests on a series of Canadian cases.

One priest was moved from a Saskatchewan church to several British Columbia parishes, then south to Arizona and Colorado, each time after fresh complaints to the local bishop.

No counselling

“Their (church officials) reaction was to move the priest to another area and not report the complaint to the authorities,” said Dana Urban, a Nelson, B.C., crown attorney who has handled several cases against priests.

Most of the victims in the cases examined by The Star were male, some as young as 6 years old. The abuse ranged from the fondling of sex organs to masturbation to oral and anal intercourse. At no time did the bishops who received those complaints provide counselling for the victims, although a few of the priests were sent away for therapy.

Beginning with two high-profile cases in 1986, police have laid child sexual assault charges against 34 of the country’s 11,400 priests.

To date, 14 of those priests have been convicted, one acquitted, one has died in custody and the remainder are awaiting trial.

Of the 14 convicted priests, research by The Star shows senior church officials heard prior complaints of sex abuse in at least nine cases, dating as far back as 1965.

In later years, victims have suffered a loss of faith, broken marriages, sexual disorders, mental breakdowns and, in at least one case, committed suicide.

Some victims have suffered tremendous guilt. The only way one 12-year-old victim of B.C.’s Rev. Harold McIntee could stop his abuse was to give the priest the names of other boys to assault.

The boy, now a 40-year-old man, says of McIntee: “He took away my innocence.”

Some of the male victims have become child molesters themselves. A few female victims became prostitutes.

But despite this, many victims say they were traumatized more by a feeling of betrayal when the church ignored or mishandled their complaint.

The father of an Ottawa victim whose complaint was silenced in 1979 said it “destroyed my faith in the senior offices of the church and in particular this diocese.”

Some Catholic families have begun showing their anger in the nation’s civil courts, filing lawsuits claiming damages because the church ignored complaints.

In at least one case, families have been paid an out-of-court settlement because their sons were assaulted after a bishop was warned of the priest’s problem.

Recent criminal convictions have forced some of the 74 Catholic dioceses in Canada, including Toronto, to formulate guidelines for handling future complaints.

The Toronto Archdiocese points out those guidelines were used effectively in 1989 when Rev. Angus McRae became the subject of complaints. McRae, who had been convicted of sex assault by a military trial in Edmonton in 1980, was immediately suspended by the church when complaints were made against him in Scarborough in 1989.

Toronto Judicial Vicar Edward Boehler said the complaints were quickly passed on to children’s aid officials. McRae was later convicted of two counts of sexual assault.

At the same time, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is updating a two-year-old set of guidelines to help individual dioceses do “long-range prevention” and provide follow-up therapy for abused and abuser.

Bishop Robert Lebel, conference president, acknowledged in a recent interview that problem priests have been transferred to other parishes in the past.

He does not think, however, bishops have ever transferred priests, or otherwise dismissed complaints, to cover up allegations of sex abuse.

“Any transfers have been asked for by the (victim’s) families because the families do not want anyone to know the child has been abused.”

But Lebel said church officials now realize it is “not sufficient to transfer (a priest) to another place. It will start someplace else.” Instead, he said, children’s aid workers and the police should be notified immediately.

All Canadian provinces now have laws requiring people to report allegations of abuse to children’s aid societies.

While many of those laws date back to the mid-1970s or before, most have recently been toughened and provide a penalty of a fine or jail for not reporting.

None of the church officials who failed to report complaints has been charged. Police say this is both because they were more concerned with investigating the sexual assault complaint, and because the failure to report charges carries a time limit in most provinces.

But some police point out that, in addition to the laws of the land, church officials have a “moral obligation” to protect children by reporting complaints to the authorities.

To many Canadians, the abuse of children by priests appears confined to Newfoundland, largely because of the attention focused on the alleged sexual abuse by Christian Brothers (non-priests who are part of a Catholic lay order) at the Mt. Cashel orphanage in St. John’s and by several high-profile cases involving priests.

In fact, the abuse has happened across the country, with 10 priests charged in Ontario, one in Quebec, five in B.C., three in Alberta, one in Saskatchewan, one in the Northwest Territories and 13 in Newfoundland since 1986.

Police who have investigated the cases say the vast majority of abuse has occurred in small, strongly Catholic communities, where parish priests command a powerful respect. Most of the priests have been heavily involved in community work, as teachers, youth group leaders, even as a Big Brother.

Priests seduced their victims by offering money and alcohol, taking the youth on trips, saying sex was a part of a Catholic ritual or that it was a necessary therapy.

Rev. Leonard Paradis of Sheshatsheit, Labrador, for example, was revered as “a connector to God” as priest to that small Innu community, according to a teenager who was abused by him six years ago, and to the detective who brought the priest to trial.

“He was the person everybody turned to with their problems,” said RCMP Constable Dan MacDonald. Paradis was so trusted that several children with abusive home lives were sent by their parents to live at his home. Paradis was later convicted of assaulting those children.

Respect for the church stopped most victims from talking about their abuse, even to their parents.

When one girl told her mother, in 1965, that Monsignor John Monaghan of Nelson, B.C., “touched her indecently,” the devoutly Catholic mother sent the girl back to Monaghan to confess she had been “spreading lies.”

Monaghan is now in prison for assaults dating back to 1959.

But when victims did complain, their allegiance to the church usually took them to the bishop, not to police or social workers.

In 1986, a Cornwall man complained to Bishop Eugene Larocque that he had been assaulted by Rev. Gilles Deslauriers eight years before. Letters obtained by The Star show that Larocque’s response was first to do nothing, then to transfer Deslauriers to a Hull parish. Larocque refused comment.

In the Monaghan case, several complaints were made to Nelson, B.C., Bishop Wilfred Emmett Doyle, including one by a school board chairman and one from a Catholic Brother.

“Bishop Doyle just dismissed it as gossip and never did a darned thing about it,” Nelson police Corporal Peers Pendlebury said of the latter complaint.

When church investigations were carried out they were often cursory, with only the priest being questioned, not the victims.

But there were occasions when the victim’s complaint was taken seriously, usually because the family refused to back down.

Sometimes, the bishop struck a deal with the family.

To convince the family not to go to police, bishops often promised the priest would receive therapy and no longer work with young people, and the victim would be saved the glare of publicity.

For the priest, it was better to be moved than face the possibility of criminal charges or an indefinite church suspension. With background checks made difficult by the fact that the Catholic church has no central authority in Canada, parishioners at the priest’s next church might never know where he had been – or what he had done.

Bishop Blaise Morand, of Prince Albert, Sask., whose diocese was home to allegations against a priest they appointed in the 1960s, agreed many problems have been caused by church officials not “picking up the phone” and checking a new priest out.

The case of Cornwall’s Deslauriers shows church plans to quietly move a priest didn’t always work. When the family of one victim found out Deslauriers refused treatment, and was in another parish, they went public with their allegations.

In a few cases, bishops confronted with allegations against a priest removed him from parish work and sent him for psychiatric therapy to places like the Southdown Emmanuel Convalescent Foundation in Aurora, a special treatment centre for priests who suffer from burnout, alcoholism or pedophilia.

But this was not always successful.

In 1977, complaints from a family prompted the Basilian Fathers of Canada to send Calgary priest Robert Whyte to Southdown for five months of treatment. But he continued to abuse young boys after returning to parish work.

Investigating the complaints against priests pose problems for police, who say church officials have withheld personnel files or cited a vow of silence to get out of answering questions.

In the Deslauriers case, for example, Bishop Eugene Larocque told police he’d go to jail rather than talk to them.

“My personal feeling is that they feel they are above the law. That the law was for us, not them,” said Cornwall Police Sergeant Ron Lefebvre, who investigated the Deslauriers case.


[Continue to read series with “Trail of abuse stretched across country“]

1 Response to How Catholic church turned blind eye to child sex abuse by priests

  1. Mike Ference says:

    The Roman Coward Church is nothing more than a weapon of mass destruction that destroys the lives of innocent children and their families. Nothing will change while church hierarchy still have power and the church still has plenty of money to buy more time.

Leave a Reply