"Church Should Have Known Better" Murray Macdonald Tells Inquiry

By Trevor Pritchard

December 20, 2008

The Alexandria-Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese "should have known better" before striking a $32,000 deal with a former altar boy accusing a priest of sexual abuse, the city's Crown attorney told the Cornwall Public Inquiry Friday.

"(David) Silmser, I thought, participated more in initiating the (deal) than he did," said Murray MacDonald.

"But that doesn't change the fact that the church should have known better."

Yesterday was MacDonald's third and final day on the stand at the Cornwall Public Inquiry, which is examining how institutions like the justice system and the local diocese dealt with allegations of historical sexual abuse. In the fall of 1993, the diocese paid Silmser $32,000 after he had told police he'd been sexually abused decades earlier by Rev. Charles MacDonald.

The settlement contained an illegal clause that kept Silmser from pursuing his criminal charges against the priest.

After the settlement, Murray MacDonald told the Cornwall Police Service that without a willing complainant, it would be extremely difficult to proceed with any charges.

The Crown attorney had testified earlier in the week he wasn't aware of all the facts when he made that recommendation -including that the illegal clause was part of the settlement.

On Friday, he said certain institutions have to be "plus Catholique que le Pape" -which inquiry commissioner Normand Glaude helpfully translated as "more Catholic than the Pope."

"If an institution claims to be on the high ground, I think we should always be careful - being Crown attorneys, priests, doctors, or anyone else in this room - to maintain that high ground," he said.

A lawyer for the diocese objected to those answers, suggesting they had no factual basis.

During the 10-month investigation by the CPS, Charles MacDonald was never questioned directly, even though his attorney said he would be willing to undergo a polygraph.

Dallas Lee, an attorney for the Victims Group, suggested to Murray MacDonald that since the settlement had essentially rendered the CPS's investigation "dead in the water," it couldn't have hurt to bring the priest in for questioning at that point.

Charles MacDonald might have given the CPS new information, or even confessed, Lee said.

"Do you think, in hindsight, it was worth a shot, sir?" he asked Murray MacDonald.

The priest would likely have given the same response he gave his superiors at the diocese, the Crown attorney replied: that any sexual contact he'd had with other men was consensual.

"I don't know why he would've broken down," said Murray MacDonald. "He hasn't to date."

Although Charles MacDonald was eventually charged by the Ontario Provincial Police with sexually abusing a number of youths, all his charges were stayed in 2002 after a judge ruled they'd taken too long to come to trial.

The priest has constantly maintained his innocence.

At the end of Lee's cross-examination, Murray MacDonald offered an apology to members of The Victims Group for any frustrations they might have had with the local Crown attorney's office.

He told the commission that every one of his legal staff had experienced vicarious trauma, at one time or another, because of the cases they handled, and vowed they were not "cold-hearted bureaucrats."

"Any mistakes we made, we apologize for," he said. "They were never done in bad faith . . . we were trying otherwise to help these folks navigate through the criminal justice system." Murray MacDonald has been the local Crown attorney since 1992. Hearings resume Jan. 6.

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Glaude goes after lawyer for comment

CORNWALL (Staff) -- Inquiry commissioner Normand Glaude admonished a lawyer Friday for questioning the actions of another party with standing at the proceedings.

Glaude called Michael Neville's comments about the Coalition for Action "unfortunate" and said he was surprised to hear them from a "senior member of the bar."

Neville had wrapped up his cross-examination of Murray MacDonald when he pointed out one unnamed party had not put any questions to the Cornwall Crown attorney.

"I'm going to simply say, Mr. Commissioner, that Mr. MacDonald should take that as recognition that his character, strength, and integrity speak for themselves."

The Coalition for Action, which has presented the opinion there was a conspiracy in Cornwall to cover up sexual abuse allegations, was the only community group not to cross-examine MacDonald.

Glaude did not take kindly to Neville's unexpected remarks.

"This is an admonishment to Mr. Neville -and to all of us -that those types of comments will not be permitted," said Glaude. "I suggest that you govern yourselves accordingly."


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