Priest's Abuse Left Family Shattered
Brothers Fell into Drugs, Sex Trade
Judge Raps Church, Awards Damages

By Robert Cribb
Toronto Star [Canada]
Downloaded February 8, 2004

LONDON, ONT.?The deep scars and tattoos etched on John Swales' face and arms remain from hard years lost in a haze of drugs, alcohol and male prostitution.

But their hidden origins date back much further, to a childhood when Swales and two of his brothers were sexually abused hundreds of times by a priest they saw as "God on earth."

Swales and his family have been fighting a legal battle for five years, alleging their lives were forever changed by the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of an uncaring Roman Catholic church and a pedophile priest.

Not just a priest, they argued, but a respected family friend who used his trusted position to sexually exploit John and his two brothers, Guy and Edward, luring them as young boys into a world of masturbation and oral sex.

Last week, Swales, his brothers, their sister and parents won that battle in a sweeping legal decision that awarded them more than $1.3 million in damages.

In a stinging judgment, Superior Court Justice John Kerr found Rev. Barry Glendinning and the Roman Catholic Diocese of London liable for the suffering of the Swales family.

Glendinning, who is now in his 70s, retired and living in Toronto, was found to have sexually abused the Swales boys between 1969 and 1974 when the priest taught at a London seminary.

"We loved the man," said John Swales in his first in-depth interview since the verdict. "He was very significant in our lives. After the abuse, the family spiralled out of control. I got into heavy drug use and disappeared. We all kind of drifted into hedonistic, debilitating lifestyles."

And yet, when Swales speaks about the man who abused him and the church that allowed it to happen, his words are filled with regret rather than rage.

He still prays to God regularly, he says.

And he claims no feelings of anger toward Glendinning.

"At some level, I still love him," says Swales, now a 45-year-old, self-employed car mechanic who has been free of alcohol and drug addiction for more than a decade. "In a weird way, he's still part of me. I had my first sexual relationship with this man, bonded with him emotionally. It was a love affair. As a little boy I fell in love with this man. Who knows that (having sex) with a priest is unacceptable? You don't until years later. "

Handsome and articulate, John, the eldest brother, has been the public voice of the family throughout the legal battle ? a battle that, for a once-devout Catholic family, amounted to "suing God," he says.

"I can't overemphasize how significant emotionally it is for a Catholic to wake up one day and say, `I'm suing the Church.' It's a big, big deal. It's ingrained. From 6 years old in school, I was learning catechism every day. I was an altar boy ringing the bells, dreaming of being a priest."

In a rare move, Kerr's decision awards damages to Donna and Bob Swales, parents of the abused brothers, as well as their sister, Melody.

Even more striking, the decision openly criticizes "perpetual secrecy" within the church around sexual abuse by priests.

"The inescapable conclusion is that the Diocese encouraged secrecy, if not wilful blindness, on the part of its priests with respect to sexual deviance," the decision reads. "It was an environment in which one heard no evil, saw no evil, and spoke no evil. The Diocese thus created and nurtured an environment in which Glendinning was free to carry on his sexual predation without fear of discovery."

Glendinning did not deny sexually assaulting the Swales boys, although he did question their testimony "concerning the nature, location and frequency of the sexual activity," the judgment reads.

"I was not impressed with his evidence, which I found to be vague, and unconvincing in the extreme," writes Kerr in his decision.

John Banfill, Glendinning's Toronto lawyer, said yesterday the decision "speaks for itself" and said no decisions have yet been made about an appeal.

This wasn't the first time Glendinning was found guilty of misconduct. In 1974, the former London priest pleaded guilty to six counts of gross indecency involving children and was placed on probation for three years. After that, he was posted to dioceses in cities across the country.

Defence lawyers for the Catholic Diocese of London also conceded Glendinning abused the Swales brothers but argued the diocese should not be held responsible since the abuse occurred during the priest's free time .

The judge dismissed the argument. He also dismissed a counter-claim by the church against John Swales claiming Swales shared responsibility for the abuse of his siblings by sexually abusing them as children.

Church officials "have made it clear we have no appetite for an appeal," said Ron Pickersgill, a spokesperson for the London Diocese.

For John and his brothers, the ruling is the end of a long and tortuous journey ? a journey that couldn't have seemed possible when they first met Glendinning as children.

The Swales brothers were raised in a deeply religious home. They said grace at dinner and knelt for nightly prayers beneath crucifixes on the walls.

As a child, John was taught that a priest was "God on earth," a "spiritual creature," he testified. When he took his first communion at age 7 or 8, priests "mesmerized him." He became an altar boy at age 10.

Around the same time, John met Glendinning at a summer camp and eventually brought the priest home to meet his mother. Glendinning asked her if he could take John to an occasional movie. A woman with deep trust in the church, Donna Swales happily obliged.

But Glendinning became far more than a kind uncle figure to John and his brothers. He quickly became a "quasi-parent, counsellor, and of course, priest and mentor, a fact known and approved by their mother," Kerr writes in his decision.

In fact, Glendinning became so close to the family, the youngest of the five Swales brothers is named after him.

The three boys were routinely in Glendinning's company in the early 1970s.

While the priest began these "improper sexual activities" with John, he eventually included Guy and Edward in incidents that included body oiling and painting, masturbation, genital fondling and oral sex.

"Such activity was carried on during almost each and every visit to his apartment and every camping trip," the judgment reads.

John testified to being in the priest's apartment about 300 times over the four years and staying overnight about 200 of those times. Guy Swales recalled his visits as between 50 and 100 and Edward testified he was there more than 50 times.

As adults, all three of the Swales boys fell into drugs, prostitution and underemployment.

By 16, John was stealing cars and using LSD, marijuana and speed daily. He came to Toronto where he had a "sugar daddy" who paid him $300 to $400 a week for sex, the court ruling says.

"My life was extreme," says John.

"As extreme as it gets. Go down to College and Yonge (Sts.) and check out the street life and that was me."

Guy, now 43, was smoking marijuana regularly by age 14 and eventually fed his drug and alcohol habits through prostitution.

He spent about two years in jail for convictions for assaults, drug offences and breaking and entering. His two marriages ended because of his drug and alcohol use.

"I feel justice has been done," he said in an interview last week. "I've never been mad at the church. I've been mad at the people who ran it. I still have my beliefs. They can't take that. I just don't believe it has to be to their standards."

Edward, by the end of Grade 8, was using marijuana weekly. He had committed two break and enters before he left elementary school, he testified.

Like his brothers, Edward fell into a life of alcohol and drug abuse as well as prostitution.

"I do think we would have done a lot better in life if it weren't for what happened," said Edward, now a 41-year-old who runs an auto body shop in London. "Do I believe they've learned anything? No. The fact that we had to go all the way through a trial and be abused by him a second time, I do feel some anger about that."

In the aftermath of the Swales' court decision, many other victims of abuse by clergy have called or e-mailed the family to express their support.

They're among the many silent victims too afraid to come forward, says John.

"There are still a lot sitting in the shadows. In order to eliminate the scourge of this, you've got to talk about it. "

In a strange way, John says his battle with the Catholic Church has brought him closer to the true tenets of the faith he once hoped to preach.

"My actions in the last five years may be more in line with what a practising Catholic should be doing than anything else," he said. "Isn't it all about correcting wrongs and doing the right thing? It isn't Christian what has been happening to victims. Jesus wouldn't do this."


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