Victims Mull Renewed Suit
Proof the RC Diocese Knew of Charles Sylvestre's Abuse May Reopen

By Jane Sims
London Free Press [Canada]
December 22, 2006

After the Roman Catholic priest who sexually abused her as a child was shamed and sent to prison in October, Joanne Morrison says she had "an epiphany."

"I let go, I was done," she said yesterday from her home in White Rock, B.C.

Morrison said she moved on from the terrible acts of Charles Sylvestre, 84, a man whose deviant behaviour consumed and damaged her life.

But Wednesday's revelation by the Roman Catholic diocese of London that three Sarnia police reports from 1962 documenting Sylvestre's abuse were found tucked away in a filing cabinet has the potential to reopen her settled civil case from more than a decade ago.

Morrison and Irene Deschenes of London were two of Sylvestre's victims who attended St. Ursula's parish in Chatham in the 1970s.

They settled their civil suits based on information the diocese had no knowledge of Sylvestre's deviant behaviour.

Morrison and Deschenes were among the first of 47 women who stepped forward and criminally charged Sylvestre with sex crimes.

The newly discovered police reports could be the evidence necessary to reopen their lawsuits and join the 40 other women in the process of suing the diocese.

But Morrison and Deschenes aren't sure what they want to do.

"That's a really big question," Morrison said.

"The more I deal with this stuff in my life, the more it blocks the ability for me to actualize my own abundance," she said

"It's like a stone around your neck. The more you stand looking backwards over your shoulders, how can you go forward?"

She says her decision to move on has freed her to focus on other parts of her life and she has watched her successful jewelry store blossom.

For most of her life she would "eat, drink, sleep, breathe" what happened to her as a child, Morrison said. "It took up my life until now. He's had too much of my life."

Based on the new information, Morrison said she will talk to a lawyer but wants to know more details about what reopening her case would entail.

Deschenes, who advocates for clergy abuse victims and met with Bishop Ronald Fabbro last summer after Sylvestre's guilty pleas, hasn't decided what to do.

"The civil suit process was so long and so financially and emotionally draining that I don't know if I want to go back there again," she said. "I'm still thinking about it."

Deschenes said she was encouraged Fabbro publicly disclosed the discovery of the 44-year-old police reports.

"It's only a first step in a number of lengthy steps that have to be taken," she said.

Sylvestre, a feeble octogenarian showing early signs of dementia, was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to 47 counts of indecent assault.

He abused little girls between the ages of nine and 14 from 1952 to 1989.

The victims in the criminal case attended churches in Windsor, Sarnia, Chatham and Pain Court. Two others were students at Mount St. Joseph's academy in London.

During those years, three bishops led the London diocese -- John Cody, Emmett Carter and John Sherlock.

News of the police reports angered another clergy abuse victim at the centre of a high-profile London civil case.

John Swales and his brothers were victims of Rev. Barry Glendinning while he taught at St. Peter's Seminary.

Glendinning pleaded guilty in 1974 to gross indecency involving six children, including members of the Swales family.

Nearly 30 years later, Swales and his two brothers won a $1.4-million judgment against the diocese.

Swales said the discovery of the police reports about Sylvestre "raises more and more and more questions."

Swales is a support services adviser for the law firm Harrison Pensa, which is representing Sylvestre's two victims from Mount St. Joseph's.

Swales said he has asked his lawyers if the new disclosure affects his case. During the Swales' civil trial, the church maintained it did not know about sexual abuse within its ranks, he said.

The diocese's discovery of the Sylvestre police reports raises the possibility the church knew about Glendinning's illicit activities involving children, Swales said.


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