Defrocked Priest Jailed for 3 Years
By Dave Pink and Eric Mayne
October 30, 1996
The twisted trail of Gerard John Vesnaugh has led to a Canadian penitentiary.
The defrocked priest, disbarred lawyer and longtime child molester – guilty of sexual assault and perjury – was sentenced on Wednesday to three years in prison by provincial court Judge Donald Ebbs.
Vesnaugh, also known as Frank Edward Quinn, admitted sexually assaulting two boys – a 10-year-old and an 11-year-old – at a Belle River beach Aug. 4. He was also found guilty of perjury after lying at his Aug. 8 bail hearing and claiming he was a high school teacher from San Diego, Calif.
In fact, the 54-year-old Vesnaugh is from Detroit and has a long history of homosexual pedophilia.
HE WAS USING his alias, complete with a California driver's licence in the name of Quinn, when arrested this summer. But after OPP investigators checked with authorities in San Diego and laid the perjury charge, Vesnaugh admitted the truth.
His lawyer, Patrick Ducharme, said the man wanted "to make a clean breast of things" and tell the court his true identity.
Ducharme said Vesnaugh was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1968 and was stationed at Immaculate Heart parish in Detroit where he first learned he was "attracted to young boys." He said Vesnaugh would take parish altar boys to a local recreation centre where he would swim with them and it was there he committed his first assault.
Vesnaugh began by touching one boy's genitals through his clothing, a practice he repeated with the same boy "on 15 or 20 other occasions." There were also "many other instances where he touched young boys," Ducharme added.
As a disciplinary measure, Vesnaugh was appointed chaplain of Ann Arbor Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich. There, he assaulted another boy in 1970.
Vesnaugh was then sent to a New Mexico retreat for counselling but his therapy was inadequate and he resumed his pattern of sexually assaulting young boys until he was forced out of the priesthood in 1975.
IN 1979, VESNAUGH was convicted of sexual assault in Michigan and received a suspended sentence and two years probation. By then he had graduated from the University of Detroit law school and had been practising for four years. He was disbarred following the conviction.
Two years later, he was charged again with three counts of sexual assault and wound up serving 2 1/2 years of a five-to-15-year sentence in Jackson State Prison in Jackson, Mich.
In 1984, Vesnaugh fled to San Diego fearing he would be charged in connection with an unsolved Detroit-area sex crime involving an indecent assault on a young girl at a public swimming pool.
Ducharme said his client remained in San Diego until February of this year when he moved to Oklahoma. There, he was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting another young boy at a public pool but fled to Windsor after he was released because of a court clerk's error.
On Aug. 4, court was told, Vesnaugh was fishing in Belle River where he met two boys who were playing along the shore of Lake St. Clair. After striking up conversations with the pair, however, he sexually assaulted one by reaching inside his bathing suit and touching his genitals and by placing his hand inside the bathing suit of the other boy and fondling his buttocks.
UPON HIS RELEASE from prison, deportation procedures will likely be launched. Michigan authorities plan to rearrest Vesnaugh for violation of his parole and will likely return him to Jackson State to finish his sentence.
In his submission to Ebbs, Ducharme asked that Vesnaugh be sentenced to the maximum term in county jail – 122 days. Ducharme said a light sentence would allow Vesnaugh to receive treatment in a sex offenders' program offered at the Brentwood Recovery Home – a program independent of Brentwood's program for alcoholism. The Brentwood program, said Ducharme, is ideal to turn Vesnaugh's life around.
Despite his experiences in the U.S., Ducharme said, Vesnaugh has never received any meaningful treatment or help to overcome his pedophilia. Several members of Detroit's Roman Catholic clergy testified to back up that statement.
Fr. John Nowlan, priest at St. Rita's Church in Detroit a longtime friend, said he hopes to see the man undergo treatment and rehabilitate himself. "He has a number of great qualities," said Nowlan. "He's an impressive human being, 99 per cent of him. Unfortunately, he's tragically flawed."
Another Detroit priest, Fr. Robert Blondell, said Vesnaugh's past sentences have never brought any meaningful treatment of his pedophilia. "There was never an opportunity for him to get treatment. Every time he was getting treatment they took him from the hospital," he said.
THE MOST REV. Walter Schoenherr, bishop of the archdiocese of Detroit and the man who recommended Vesnaugh leave the priesthood, said it is important the man receive some treatment before being released. "I would not want him freed and walking the streets," he said. "But if the treatment can help him, fine."
Assistant Crown Attorney David Foulds wanted Vesnaugh sent to penitentiary for three to five years. He said the perjury conviction alone should bring a sentence of several months, and the man's record as a sex offender should bring a lengthy penitentiary term.
Sharon Williams, a clinical psychologist at Kingston Penitentiary, testified the federal penal system offers a good rehabilitative program for sex offenders.
"In my brief tenure on the bench I have never seen a case as difficult as this," said Ebbs. He said the Belle River assaults were not violent, and that the victims suffered no damaging affects from the assaults. He said the best means of protecting the community is to ensure Vesnaugh receives a rehabilitative sentence so he can overcome his pedophilia.
But "the courts have to recognize the abhorrence of the public," said Ebbs. "We're working on their behalf.
"To impose a sentence of only 122 days would produce a sense of outrage in the public, and justifiably so. This individual's been involved in these acts 15 years and has always refused assistance. He has violated his parole, moved around and changed his identification.
"It would be totally irresponsible to impose a term in the county jail," said Ebbs.
But a penitentiary sentence as along as five years is too long, and would work against Vesnaugh's rehabilitation, he said. "There's a ray of sense in a sentence of three years, and one the public will accept under all the circumstances," he said.