Priest's Death Bittersweet for His Abuse Victims

By Trevor Wilhelm
Vancouver Sun [Canada]
January 24, 2007

Convicted pedophile priest Charles Sylvestre died Monday at a prison hospital, just months into his three-year sentence for abusing 47 girls.

Sylvestre - who abused children for nearly four decades under the noses of parents, teachers and officials within the Roman Catholic Church - spent the last three days of his life under guard at Kingston Penitentiary's prison hospital in Kingston, Ont.

The 84-year-old died late Monday after being questioned earlier in the day by several lawyers involved in the dozens of lawsuits filed by his victims.

Carol Ann Mieras, one of his victims, was there with her lawyer. She said she regrets she won't have the chance to hear Sylvestre tell about others, including teachers and church authorities, who knew he was abusing children and did nothing.

"What saddens me most is a lot of answers have died with him," she said. "We'll likely never know for sure, now. I was at the prison and I anticipated he wouldn't live through the day. He didn't look well at all. ... He coughed at one point and had that rattle in his chest like the Grim Reaper is standing on top of you. I think it's a shame he didn't have to serve more time."

Sylvestre's sentence began Oct. 6 after he was taken from a Chatham, Ont., courtroom in handcuffs to the cheers of victims and their families.

Diane Russon, spokeswoman for Correctional Service Canada, said Sylvestre was sent to Kingston's Millhaven Penitentiary for the customary 100-day assessment.

He was taken from Millhaven to Kingston Penitentiary's hospital. He died of natural causes, she said, but protocol requires a coroner's inquest be held.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of London faces 41 lawsuits from victims. Barb Legate, who represents 28 victims, said in a statement that the lawsuits will be amended to name his estate.

"The most significant impact on the action is that the victims will not have the benefit of Sylvestre's testimony about the many other people who knew about the abuse, but did nothing to protect his young victims," she said.

"Evidence is mounting that a large number of institutions, religious, educational and protective, were aware of his proclivities before children were hurt."

Victim Lou Ann Soontiens said she had a "love-hate relationship" with Sylvestre, the only person who paid her any attention as a child. Soontiens also said she's lost the chance for final closure.

"I didn't want him to die," she said. "I wanted him to look at me and tell my why he did that to me. I never got to speak to him about why he abused me for seven years, why he hurt me like he did."

The London diocese posted a brief statement on its website.

"We continue to feel grief and shock at the revelations of his actions, and we say again that we deplore all instances of sexual abuse and sexual impropriety, especially by clergy or anyone in the Church's employ, towards minors," the statement said.


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