'We See This As a Matter of Justice'
Bishop Ronald Fabbro Answers Questions from Free Press Reporter Jane Sims about the Charles Sylvestre Case
By Jane Sims
London Free Press [Canada]
December 21, 2006
Q: Why did you feel it was important at this time particularly to come out with a report that goes into where the diocese is at this point?
A: First the victims -- I've met with a few for them. It's been hard to hear over the past few months what they've been through. (With) the harm, the horrible abuse that they suffered and affected their whole lives, they're expecting that something good will come of this. Quite rightfully, they expect the church will be preventing abuse. It was important for me to give them a progress report of where I was at and in bringing what I said I would be doing and bringing it to completion.
The other was the reporting of the 1962 documents. That was important to me as well.
Q: There are a lot of questions that follow that discovery. It was important for you to disclose that. Can you tell me why?
A: It was distressing to find out that we had those documents and weren't aware of them. We have an obligation when these claims come forward . . . to do a search of our files and to present to the individuals involved those documents. It is distressing to know we had a document going back to 1962 that we weren't aware of.
Q: Can you tell me where you found them?
A: They were in a filing cabinet. They weren't where they were supposed to be. They weren't in his personnel file -- that's where we would look in terms of finding documents on a priest. We would look in his personnel file and go through and then provide the information that was required.
These documents were in a file in some accounting papers for different priests. It was actively used, but nobody knew that at the very back of this file there was a section of different files on different priests. Some of them were dead, some of them were still alive and then there was this file for Father Sylvestre. It was found inadvertently by an assistant here who has been here (for more than a decade) and knew this was an accounting file and never suspected that there was other documents in there.
Q: Do you think this was put in this spot so it would not be found?
A: I don't think it was hidden and the reason I say that is because the other files that it was with, there was a group of other priests. When we looked at all those other files, it wasn't like it was confidential information you would be hiding or anything like that. It was just ordinary information that should have been in their personnel files.
Q: I think the feeling in the community is that there is a certain amount of protectionism for priests. . . . You haven't had public support from bishops across the country. Why is that?
A: I have been getting a lot of support from my fellow bishops who are dealing with sexual abuse or have been and have commended me on the way I have approached this.
My sense is there is a commitment on the part of the bishops in Canada like myself that we see we are taking all measures to prevent sexual abuse of minors in our church.
Q: There are 41 lawsuits and it looks like there may be more down the road. This is going to cost the diocese a lot of money. Does it figure into this at all?
A: For us it is a matter of justice. These victims have been harmed by a priest of the diocese and we see this as a matter of justice. I don't see how we can proclaim the gospel and not be committed to justice. It's going to cost, but this is what we need to be committed to as a church.
Q: Has someone been asleep at the switch here? Has there been a problem in understanding that this was an issue within the diocese and not acted on? Or are we living in a different cultural situation where we're more able to recognize sexual abuse for what it is and the pain it causes.
A: There has been a development in the church and we can see that from looking back over Fr. Sylvestre's time. . . . Now we know from science about pedophilia what we did not know before, and that is true of the scientific community and psychologists in terms of, in Fr. Sylvestre's time, sending him away for treatment and getting reports back that we think the priest can go back in the ministry. Now we know psychologists wouldn't say that. They would know pedophilia is a psychological disorder, not a moral fault. It's permanent and it's not going to be cured. I think we've learned from that. There was a culture of disbelief when victims came forward. It seemed inconceivable that a priest could do these things.
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