The Troubled Church

Share Button

 Vatican, Canadian church officials tried to keep sex scandal secret

A 1993 letter focuses on protecting the church’s image by preventing public knowledge of Bernard Prince’s abuse of altar boys  

Toronto Globe and Mail

 Published on Friday, Apr. 09, 2010 3:00AM EDT

Last updated on Friday, Apr. 09, 2010 3:07AM EDT  

Tu Thanh Ha  

Céline Dion with Bernard Prince and Pope John Paul II in the fall of 1984.

Céline Dion with Bernard Prince and Pope John Paul II in the fall of 1984.  


More than a decade before police got wind that a priest had molested several altar boys in small towns in the Ottawa Valley, Vatican and Canadian church officials knew about the matter and discussed in a letter how to keep it secret.  

The letter, written in 1993, focused on protecting the church’s image by preventing the scandal from becoming public – the very essence of an international wave of allegations now battering the Roman Catholic clergy and the Vatican.  

“It is a situation which we wish to avoid at all costs,” the late Bishop Joseph Windle of Pembroke, Ont., wrote in Feb. 10, 1993, to the Pope’s envoy to Canada, Carlo Curis.  


“ The consequences of such an action would be disastrous, not only for the Canadian church but for the Holy See as well. ”— Bishop Joseph Windle  


The man Bishop Windle was writing about was then-monsignor Bernard Prince, now 75, a friend of the late Pope John Paul II who had just been posted to the Vatican as a high-ranking official working with missionary societies.  

The year before Mr. Prince was sent to Rome, a man had complained to the diocese that the priest had molested him when he was a child. At least one Vatican archbishop, Jose Sanchez, now a cardinal, had been warned about Mr. Prince’s problem before he was sent to Rome, Bishop Windle said in the letter.  

Bishop Windle wrote that he told Cardinal Sanchez that he agreed with posting Mr. Prince to the Vatican. “While the charge against Fr. Prince was very serious, I would not object to him being given another chance since it would remove him from the Canadian scene.”  

In his letter to the papal nuncio, Bishop Windle cautioned the Vatican to avoid honouring Mr. Prince because it could anger victims and prompt them to contact police.  

“The consequences of such an action would be disastrous, not only for the Canadian church but for the Holy See as well,” the bishop wrote.  

Former bishop Joseph Windle of Pembroke, Ont. Former bishop Joseph Windle of Pembroke, Ont.  

It would only be in May, 2005, that a victim contacted the Ontario Provincial Police. Mr. Prince is now defrocked and serving a four-year sentence after being convicted in 2008 of sexually molesting 13 boys between 1964 and 1984.  

The Canadian Catholic Church boasted for years that it has been a global model in implementing protocols – specifically the recommendations of the 1992 report From Pain to Hope – that would block cover-ups by senior officials of sexual misdeeds by priests. A key recommendation was that bishops should immediately report to police allegations of priestly sexual assaults on minors.  


Read the letter

1993 letter from Bishop Joseph Windle to the Pope’s envoy to Canada  


Bishop Windle’s letter was penned the year after the report was published.  

The four-page letter – an exhibit filed this week in a civil suit – is the first court document to buttress the long-held belief by victims of Mr. Prince that the clergy had known of the problem for years but tried to hush it up.  

It shows that the church hierarchy was aware that the allegations were serious since they involved up to five victims, were of “considerable duration” and triggered “traumatic memories” in one or two victims who needed counselling.  

Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, the former archbishop of Toronto.
Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, the former archbishop of Toronto.  

The allegations were so grave that the future cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, then archbishop of Toronto, warned Mr. Prince he was not welcome in the Toronto archdiocese unless he had undergone psychiatric treatment, the letter said.  

In additional to Cardinal Ambrozic, the letter says that the Canadian church officials aware of the allegations included Anthony Tonnos, the bishop of Hamilton; Francis Spence, who was archbishop of Kingston; the late Joseph Wilhelm, the previous archbishop of Kingston; John O’Mara, who was bishop of Thunder Bay; and Marcel Gervais, then the archbishop of Ottawa. 

“All of the Bishops of Ontario who are aware of this situation (and there are several) would most certainly agree with my assessment in this regard,” Bishop Windle wrote in the letter. 

Bishop Windle and the nuncio had discussed the matter before, by telephone and fax, the letter said. 

“The knowledge and the extent of Father Prince’s previous activity is now much more widespread among both the laity and the clergy then previously existed,” Bishop Windle wrote. 

“Hence, were he to be honoured in any way, it could easily trigger a reaction among the victim(s) or others who are aware of this previous conduct, and this would prove extremely embarrassing both for the Holy See and the archdiocese of Pembroke, not to mention the possibility of criminal charges being laid and a civil suit ensuing.”  

Former archbishop of Ottawa Marcel Gervais. The Canadian Press  

Former archbishop of Ottawa Marcel Gervais. 

Mr. Prince, who grew up in Wilno, a Polish settlement 180 kilometres west of Ottawa, became friends with Cardinal Karol Wojtila before the latter became Pope. To Canadians visiting the Vatican, he was known as a channel to the Pope. In the autobiography of Céline Dion, there is a photo of the pop diva being introduced to John Paul II by Mr. Prince in 1984.

 From 1991 until he retired in 2004, Mr. Prince worked at the Vatican as second in command at the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith, which promotes and supports missionary work. It was during that time that he received the honorific title of Monsignor.

 The letter was written after a 34-year-old man complained to church officials in October, 1990, that he had been a victim of Mr. Prince while he was a boy. 

“At that time we were under the impression that the incident was isolated, in the distant past, and there was little or no danger of any scandal ever emerging,” the letter said. 

The complainant assured the diocese vicar-general, Monsignor Michael Barry, that he wouldn’t contact the police but wanted to make sure Mr. Prince would be supervised and counselled, the letter said. 

The complainant had concerns because he learned that Mr. Prince had been spotted in Thailand, dining with someone from the Canadian embassy. “Hence the victim felt he [Mr. Prince] was not being properly supervised as he was travelling alone and extensively.” 

The letter said it is “fortunate” that many of the victims were of Polish ancestry, devout Catholics who would be less likely to complain to secular authorities. Charles Gibson, the lawyer for the Pembroke diocese, did not reply to a phone call and an e-mail about the civil suits. 

With reports from Celia Donnelly and Michael Valpy   

Bernard Prince in a 1979 photo.  


 Bernard Prince – history of a downfall   

  • 1934 April 27 – Bernard Ambrose Prince born in Wilno, Ont.
  • 1963 May 11 – Ordained at Wilno’s St. Mary’s Church.
  • 1963-1966 – Postgraduate degree in Rome in canon law.
  • 1964 – First sexual abuse with young boys for which Mr. Prince would later be convicted.
  • 1968 – A sexual-abuse complaint about Mr. Prince is reported to the Pembroke diocese, according to a civil-suit statement of claim.
  • 1969-1975 – Appointed assistant general-secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
  • 1974 – Master’s degree in Slavic studies, Ottawa University.
  • 1976 – Master’s degree in history of religion, University of Notre Dame, Indiana.
  • 1976-1977 – Enrolled in a course at National Defence College in Kingston.
  • 1981-1984 – Appointed again as assistant general-secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
  • 1987 – Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies for English-speaking Canada.
  • 1990 October – A 34-year-old man tells area priest that he had been molested as a child by Mr. Prince. He later discusses the matter with Michael Barry, vicar-general for the Pembroke diocese.
  • 1991 – Mr. Prince is sent to Rome as secretary-general of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
  • 1993 February 10 – Pembroke bishop Joseph Windle writes to papal nuncio Carlo Curis.
  • 2004 – Mr. Prince retires.
  • 2005 May – The Killaloe OPP detachment receives a complaint from a man saying he had been molested in 1969.
  • 2005 October – The OPP issues an arrest warrant for Mr. Prince.
  • 2008 Jan. 14 – Mr. Prince found guilty of sexually molesting 13 boys between 1964 and 1984.
  • 2009 May 4 – Pope Benedict XVI issues the decree defrocking Mr. Prince.

    13 Responses to The Troubled Church

    1. Robert Perras says:

      Hello Sylvia,
      Again thank you for continuing your investigative work in this area. I often wonder how Perry and Helen Dunlop are doing. I hope they are well. He will always be a hero in my mind and heart. I just wish someday that i will be able to meet this honorable gentleman and hug him and shake his hand and thank him in person for having had the courage to do the rigth and proper thing as he did.
      What you are disclosing re: Bernard Prince confirms what i have maintained all along,that is that the very head of theRC church is corrupt to the core and not worthy to be regarded as sheppard for the Lord Jesus Christ’s flock. The only rigtheous thing to do for any person who holds at heart to walk with Christ is flee that institution as the Word of God so expressely says to do in 2 Corinthians 6:17 “Wherefore come out from among them, and be seperate , saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and i will receive you, and i will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. “
      If you take the time to check this passage of Scripture you will find that it is in the proper context.
      Corrupt people host corruption!!!!
      May the Lord Jesus Christ give you the strenght to walk away from such apostasy, in Christ’s love, Robert

    2. Sylvia says:

      I agree 100% Robert that Perry Dunlop is a hero.

      I do not concur with your inference that all Roman Catholics are non beleivers-beleivers (2 Corinthians 5:14) and that all Roman Catholics are corrupt.

      I have no desire to engage in a theological debate with you Robert. You practise your faith and I will practise mine. I am a Roman Catholic. I will remain a Roman Catholic.

    3. Michael says:

      You intrepret the Bible like the pentecostal and some other similar churches do. Picks up bits and bits from here and there and intrepret in your own way. Compared to many other churches, catholic church is much much better. God to this web page you will see three very famous Anglican bishops became catholics with countless faithful. They lost their position as bishops to be ordained as just priests! Who will do that?? They did it because they understood which is the tru church and which is better than others.

    4. Lina says:

      The book: “Hidden No Longer:
      Genocide in Canada, Past and Present”
      By Kevin D. Annett, M.A., M.Div.

      The book is dedicated to the more than 50,000 children who
      died in “Indian residential schools” operated jointly by the
      government of Canada and the Roman Catholic, Anglican
      and United Church of Canada – and to those who continue
      to suffer and die from the consequences of these crimes.

      Here is an interesting quote from Chief Peter Yellow Quill the way the Catholic Church & other Christians churches dealt with the clergy abuse scandal and still do.

      “Pretend a man stole your car, and then he showed up at your door and
      apologized to you for stealing it. But then he got in the stolen vehicle and drove
      away again. That’s what white people like to call healing and reconciliation: nice
      words, but nothing ever changes.” —Chief Peter Yellow Quill, Anishinabe Nation, said on June 16, 2010.

      As for the three very famous Anglican bishops became catholics with countless faithful.

      They must have accepted the dogma of Mary pretty quick and praying the rosary?

      In my opinion, a big majority leaving the Anglican Church are filled with anti-female and anti-gay issues.

      It’s amazing how a person can switch and convinced themselves that the Roman Catholic Church is the one only true Church.

      I will not engage in a debate of theology. I do not want to deflect from what this website stands for.


    5. Tim says:

      Speak yout heresy or falsity- you are known for it Lena, 0r whoever you are today ! Tim

    6. snowdog says:

      Your report on the events involving Bishop Windle are absolutely correct what you don’t report is that Msg. Borne was his secretary during this and definitely had a hand in crafting any letters going out at this time by Bishop Windle.

    7. snowdog says:

      As per what this person “Tim” is writing against Lina claiming whoever she is today interesting he can’t spell her name right but whatever you go “Tim”.

    8. Sylvia says:

      Yes snowdog, there is a good chance that as both secretary and Chancellor Msgr. Borne had a hand in crafting the letters. If he didn’t actually contribute chances are high that he was familiar with their contents. He certainly was in a position to have a good pulse on the goings on in the diocesan centre

    9. Robert Perras says:

      Interesting to read the responses to my comments. The troubled church is indeed in trouble. You know what: those wanting to follow Christ are not forced to stay in this corrupt institution, they can freely walk away while seeking God in prayer for direction. Obviously the RC leadership from the Pope down are not interested in repentance but much more in cover up and damage control as you are doing a good job of exposing Sylvia. To some people exposing the truth as Lina did is an oportunity to call her a heretic. Boy are we back in the times of the Inquisition….if praying Mary and any other saint is ok and you cannot see the direction in Scripture regarding such, no wonder you are finding yourselves comfortable in the RC setting. Discernement is soarly lacking. As Lina stated the fact that collusion between the Gov’t of Canada and the various churches including the RC chuch is amply documented should be enough in itself to make any serious Christian do like Luther, Calvin, Huss( he was burned alive for having criticized Papal infallability and indulgences) and run away from the corrupt thing. I guess Roman Catholics in those days approved of such or were scared to death of opposing-protesting…WHAT IS THE REASON TODAY??

      • Tim says:

        Robert, you missed your calling !!! You are depriving some village of its own idiot ! Tim

      • michael says:

        Robert ,
        all the churches are dying, the only one growing is The Holy Roman Catholic church, why?? because it is the tru church. The more you all falselyaccuse the church, it becomes stronger. The Catholic church is much better without people like you!

    10. Sylvia says:

      Is it not possible to discuss without hurling insults? What I read is neither Catholic nor Christian.

    11. Sylvia HP says:

      Sylvia’s efforts to bring light onto a subjet of such darkness and pain is highly commendable. My prayers are with you. Church, government,military,social systems,workplaces,neighbourhoods,family,marriage or just inside our heads and souls, are all place that we can run away from. Standing up for ourselves and others is a lifetime investment. Being pushed down and crushed is a lifetime challenge to try and stand up and dance it off. Putting down to elevate keeps the feeling of enslavement alive. To liberate from within is letting the light filter through so others can see it and go to it. Putting the spot light in their eyes will only blind them and create a bigger shadow. The only truth on earth is knowing it is from heaven.

    Leave a Reply