Former Bishop Says Following Protocol Not His Responsibility

By Trevor Pritchard

August 1, 2008

Former bishop Eugene LaRocque told the Cornwall Public Inquiry Thursday he would have had "to be God" to have known all the goings-on in his diocese — including the way his own delegate was handling a 1992 sexual abuse complaint against a local priest.

LaRocque, 81, was trying to explain why it seemed the Alexandria-Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese wasn’t following its draft sexual abuse protocol after David Silmser accused Rev. Charles MacDonald of assaulting him decades earlier.

"If it’s not being followed, it’s not my responsibility. It’s the delegate’s," said LaRocque, who headed the diocese from 1975 until 2002.

"I can’t comment one way or another, except that it should be followed."

Thursday was LaRocque’s third day on the stand at the inquiry, which is probing how institutions like the church reacted when faced with allegations of historical sexual abuse.

In December 1992, Silmser went to the diocese alleging MacDonald, a former priest at St. Columban’s Church in Cornwall, had abused him when he was an altar boy in the 1960s and 1970s.

At the time Silmser came forward, the diocese had what LaRocque called "serious guidelines" in place to handle allegations against priests.

One guideline was that the bishop would assign a delegate — in this case, Msgr. Donald McDougald — to strike a committee to look into the complaint.

The committee’s duties includes keeping notes of any meetings with the complainant or the accused, turning the allegation over to the Children’s Aid Society if it was warranted, and if it wasn’t, telling the complainant why not.

Lead commission counsel Peter Engelmann suggested that not only were those duties neglected, but that McDougald sought to set up a meeting between Silmser and MacDonald — something the draft guidelines specifically prohibited.

LaRocque said it was the delegate’s responsibility — not the bishop’s — to follow the protocol. The only way he could remain "objective" was by not involving himself in the committee’s work, he added.

Continued After Advertisement Below

"And who’s the head of the diocese?" asked inquiry commissioner Normand Glaude.

"I am," said LaRocque.

"And is it not the ultimate responsibility of the head of the diocese to (make sure) the protocol is followed?" asked Glaude.

LaRocque said it would have been "absolutely impossible" to oversee everything that happened in the diocese, including McDougald’s committee. "I'd have to be God to be able to do all that," he said.

McDougald has not yet testified at the inquiry.

The diocese and MacDonald would strike a $32,000 settlement with Silmser in September 1993. That payout included an illegal clause that kept Silmser from pursuing criminal charges against MacDonald. MacDonald was eventually charged in 1996 with sex crimes involving a number of youths. The charges were stayed in 2002 after a judge ruled his right to a timely trial had been violated.

The same year MacDonald was charged, the diocese approved another policy stating that any priest facing sexual abuse allegations would have his legal fees covered.

While the diocese would immediately remove any priest suspected of abusing children from his parish, the policy also ensured that priest would receive his full salary, along with a car allowance and benefits, until the end of his legal battles – including appeals.

Engelmann suggested the protocol would afford priests "many benefits" in exchange for denying abuse allegations.

"You'd have to know the context, sir," said LaRocque. "The context is that many of my priests, as well as myself, were accused in 1996."

LaRocque said the affidavit of Ron Leroux, who testified last summer at the inquiry, falsely implicated a number of priests who ended up being investigated by the police. "We knew that we were innocent . . . the law was not protecting us, so we had to have some way of being able to protect ourselves," he said.

The former bishop continues testifying today.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.