Our Understanding of the Facts of Father Charles Sylvestre's Appointment History

By Peter Lauwers
Roman Catholic Diocese of London
January 24, 2008

Charles Sylvestre was prosecuted and convicted of sexual assaults and other related crimes on a number of victims by the Honourable Justice B. Thomas in hearings on August 3, September 22, and October 6, 2006. The Diocese does not dispute the facts admitted by Charles Sylvestre on which the convictions are based.

It is apparent from the criminal convictions that Charles Sylvestre abused girls at many of his postings. There are convictions relating to his activities as pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Sarnia from 1958 to 1962. From the documentary record, it appears that some of his victims advised the police who carried out an investigation. Photocopies of three witness statements dated January 17, 1962 were provided by someone from the Sarnia police to Monsignor J.A. Cook, a priest who was stationed in Sarnia. He appears to have put the documents into an old envelope that he had (postmarked 1958) and likely gave a copy directly to Bishop Cody.

Charles Sylvestre was immediately removed from the parish in January, 1962 (a decision that could only be made by the Bishop) and was sent to a religious house in Quebec, where he spent at least two months. He may have remained there longer since there is a letter from him in June, 1962 requesting permission to make a further retreat in Quebec.

This way of handling a complaint of fondling in 1962 would have been typical of the day. The tendency to fondle girls would have been seen as a moral failing and a sin that Charles Sylvestre could control simply by his own conscious intention and more spiritual work, much in the same way that many people of the day considered alcohol abuse to be controllable. Modern knowledge about the psychodynamics of pedophilia now recognizes that this was a serious mistake.

Charles Sylvestre was then sent to St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto, where classes commenced on September 16, 1962, and he remained there until January, 1963, when he asked Bishop Cody to be relieved of the educational program because he was failing. He was posted briefly to a parish in Delhi as an associate pastor.. The assignment as an associate pastor would have been a clear demotion for a priest who was previously a pastor since he was under the responsibility of a pastor.

In June 30, 1963 Charles Sylvestre was assigned for one year to be the bursar and librarian at Regina Mundi College. Effective June 21, 1964, he was the first assistant pastor at Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Windsor and became the administrator of that parish in December of 1964, remaining there until September, 1965. During this time he was not alone in the parish.

The sequence of assignments leads the Diocese to the sense that Charles Sylvestre was removed from the Sarnia parish in January, 1962 when the allegations came to the attention of Bishop Cody. He was given spiritual direction and administrative assignments for a period of time. It is possible that he was monitored over this period by Bishop Cody, who died suddenly, however, in December, 1963.

Bishop Cody was succeeded by Bishop Carter on February 17, 1964, who subsequently assigned Charles Sylvestre to Our Lady of the Rosary in Windsor in June, 1964 as first assistant pastor. He was posted to St. Cecilia in Port Dover as pastor in October, 1965. There is no record that Bishop Carter was aware of Charles Sylvestre's abuses in the past.

The 2006 criminal convictions show that Charles Sylvestre continued to abuse girls in Port Dover and at St. Ursula's in Chatham from March, 1968 to June, 1980. There is no record that any complaints were made to a representative of the Diocese concerning his misconduct.

Charles Sylvestre's last assignment was at Immaculate Conception in Pain Court from June 21, 1981. It appears that in May or June, 1989, some girls complained to their teacher or principal about being touched by him. The principal reported these allegations to Bishop Sherlock who referred them to the chair of the diocesan Sex Abuse Committee, Fr. Richard Tremblay. Charles Sylvestre was removed from the parish and was never again posted to a parish.

Charles Sylvestre was assessed in late September 1989 at an assessment and treatment facility in Lake Orion, Michigan known as Guest House and was admitted there for residential treatment on October 10, 1989. As the result of Carol Mieras' complaint to Fr. Richard Tremblay on October 20, 1989, it became abundantly clear that Charles Sylvestre's problems were far more than alcohol-related, which was the first impression, but were psycho-sexual as well. He was treated for both at Guest House. He was discharged on January 10, 1990 and was obliged to continue with an after-care program, including personal counselling. He was assigned as chaplain at Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor, Ontario.

Charles Sylvestre remained as chaplain until more complaints about past assaults came to the attention of the Diocese. He was then sent to Southdown for an assessment and was released in December, 1992. He was retired by Bishop Sherlock.

Charles Sylvestre was instructed specifically not to do parish work when he was first assigned to Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital in 1989. When it was later discovered that he was assisting in a parish in Belle River on the weekends, Bishop Sherlock intervened directly to stop it.

These are the basic facts as we now understand them. This is subject to change as more information is received from victims and others.


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