Catholic Diocese Finds More Evidence of Priest's Sexual Abuse

By Trevor Wilhelm
Ottawa Citizen [Canada]
December 21, 2006

Windsor, Ont. - The London, Ont., Catholic diocese admitted Wednesday it has evidence that Rev. Charles Sylvestre was sexually abusing little girls since at least 1962.

Bishop Ronald Fabbro revealed that in Octoberhis assistant found copies of statements three victims made to Sarnia, Ont., police in 1962 about how Sylvestre sexually abused them.

Rev. Charles Sylvestre shields his face with a book on his way to court earlier this year.
Photo by The Canadian Press

The discovery was upsetting, he said, because it shows police and church officials knew about Sylvestre's transgressions and don't appear to have done anything to stop him.

"This would confirm that in '62, the diocese did receive a police report,"said Fabbro. "We thought 1989 was the first record that we had.... It was distressing. I was taken aback by that."

Fabbro said the statements were sitting in the back of a filing cabinet full of accounting documents at the diocese office.

Sarnia officers weren't the only police to dismiss the claims of Sylvestre's victims. In 1989, another victim, Carol Ann Mieras, made a statement to Chatham police, who also didn't lay charges. Mieras also approached the diocese with her story.

Fabbro has previously said 1989 was the first time the diocese had any official complaints against the priest.

Sylvestre, 84, is serving a three-year prison sentence for sexually abusing 47 girls at parishes across southwestern Ontario. Crown attorney Paul Bailey has said several more victims came forward who weren't part of the criminal proceedings.

Fabbro said the diocese found the documents while preparing to deal with the 41 lawsuits Sylvestre's victims have filed. Hoping to settle out of court, the diocese has asked for an administrative judge to expedite the cases.

"We thought we'd gone through all our documents," Fabbro said. "It was a surprise to find these files we didn't know existed."

The diocese hasn't released the 1962 documents to the media.

Two of the statements, obtained by CanWest News Service, were made by 11-year-old girls. Both girls said Sylvestre touched them, one on the breasts, the other on her "privates."

During questioning, a police officer asked one girl if Sylvestre ever exposed himself to her.

"Yes, he let me put my hand on it,"she responded.

The girl later said Sylvestre gave her some milk and she fell asleep.

"And he put his thing on me,"she said. "I know this because I woke up."

When the officer asked where, the girl said "right here,"and pointed between her legs.

Lawyer Barb Legate, who is representing those two victims in civil suits, will be amending their cases.

"In the past, the diocese denied the claims of those who came forward and claimed that no one could have know what Sylvestre was up to,"she said. "Now we know the diocese has known since at least 1962. It is clear that this knowledge was not acted upon. Successive bishops who placed Sylvestre time and again in positions of trust over young girls failed to safeguard them from harm."

Bailey said the new information doesn't affect the completed criminal case, but said it shows someone hid information.

"It's a pretty clear indication that at some time in the past, somebody knew something, and that information was not disclosed when others brought their civil suits,"he said.



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