Diocese Finds It Had Reports on Pedophile Priest
By Jane Sims
London Free Press
December 21, 2006
In a shocking revelation yesterday, the Roman Catholic diocese of London admitted it has been in possession of three police reports from 1962 detailing the sexual abuse of three victims by disgraced priest Charles Sylvestre.
The Sarnia police reports were found tucked away in the back of a filing cabinet among accounting papers at the diocesan offices and not in Sylvestre's personnel file.
Their discovery provides the smoking gun for plaintiffs in civil suits showing the diocese knew of Sylvestre's abusive behaviour before he was moved from parish to parish across Southwestern Ontario.
Chatham-Kent police have been asked to investigate. Failing to disclose the information during the criminal case is potentially a criminal offence, said Chatham-Kent Crown attorney Paul Bailey.
"The Chatham-Kent police service have been asked to look into the circumstances of the non-disclosure to satisfy themselves with respect to if this was an inadvertent non-disclosure or otherwise," he said.
Bishop Ronald Fabbro said the surprise discovery was made in late October -- after Sylvestre, 84, was sentenced to three years in prison for 47 counts of indecent assault on young girls -- by a diocese office clerk who has worked there for more than 10 years.
The reports were among papers concerning other priests found at the back of the file. They were found during a search of records for the civil court process.
Fabbro said he immediately turned the reports over to lawyers involved in the civil case against the diocese and Sylvestre -- 41 actions have been filed and there are six other possible claims.
"It was distressing to find out that we had those documents and weren't aware of them," he said. "When these claims come forward, we have an obligation as a diocese to do a search of our files and present the individuals involved those documents."
Fabbro said he doesn't believe the documents were intentionally hidden because the information was among other non-sensitive personnel material concerning other priests.
"It didn't look like it was being hidden on that basis. It looked like it was just lost and forgotten about."
Fabbro has asked the staff to conduct a thorough search of all documents.
Sylvestre was moved from parish to parish across the region during over more than 30 years.
His victims in the criminal case date as far back as 1952 and extends to 1989. The case involved churches in Windsor, Sarnia, Chatham and Pain Court.
Sylvestre was also posted at Mount St. Joseph academy in London in the 1950s. Twenty-nine of the victims in the criminal case were from St. Ursula's parish in Chatham.
Every victim had their breasts fondled. For others, the abuse escalated to touching underclothes, digital penetration, masturbation and rape.
The new documents have the potential to re-open civil cases settled in the 1990s.
London civil lawyer Barbara Legate, representing 30 victims, settled Sylvestre cases a decade ago after being told the diocese didn't know anything about Sylvestre's abuses.
"We were told there was no way (for the diocese to know). This is a guy who did it in a covered-up way. If the little girls didn't come forward, how are we (the diocese) supposed to know?"
She questioned why important police information was not passed along between bishops and left unnoticed in a file cabinet.
Shortly after the 1962 police interviews, Sylvestre was sent away for a year, presumably for alcohol counselling, before he was back as a parish priest.
"Now we have proof one of the moves is tied directly to disclosure by the girls of abuse and he is taken away for a year," Legate said. "What's outrageous is the negligent way these documents have been mishandled over the years."
Legate applauded Fabbro's efforts in "doing the right things" but said "the church has a long way to go before I think my clients are going to think they are on their side."
TRANSCRIPT OF A SARNIA POLICE INTERVIEW WITH A GIRL
Interview conducted Jan. 17, 1962 about 6:30 p.m.
Q: Do you know Father Sylvestre?
Q: Has he ever touched you on your privates?
A: Last Monday maybe. I am not sure.
Q: How many times has he done this?
A: A lot of times.
Q: When he touched you did he take your clothes off?
Q: Did he ever expose himself to you?
A: Yes, he let me put my hand on it.
Q: Was anyone else present?
A: Yes (name blacked out).
Q: How long did he make you hold onto his penis?
A: Not too long, about two
Q: Where did this happen?
A: In the priest's home.
Q: Did he ever give you milk to drink?
A: Yes, I fell asleep and he put his thing on me. I know this because I woke up.
Q: Where did he put his thing on you?
A: Right here (Gestures between her legs).
Q: Were your pants down?
Q: When did this happen?
A: I am not sure, think it was last year.
Q: Do you know any other girls?
Q: How old are you?
A: (Blacked out).
Q: Did the priest say anything to you when you touched his penis?
Q: Did he warn you not to tell anyone?
Q: Do you know what an oath is?
A: I don't know what oath (is) but I know what to tell the truth is.
Q: Did the priest tell you it was alright to touch his penis?
A: He never said anything.
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