Cornwall Standard Freeholder
Friday, October 06, 2006 – 10:00
Front Page – Nearly 30 years after her son was sexually abused by a priest, a mother was reduced to tears Thursday when a bishop offered a formal apology for her family’s suffering.
Lyse Brisson had just finished testifying at the Cornwall Public Inquiry about the abuse her son, Benoit, suffered at the hands of Rev. Gilles Deslauriers over a three-year period in the late 1970s and its impact on her family when an attorney for the Alexandria-Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese came to the microphone and began to speak.
“(Bishop Paul-Andre Durocher) apologizes for the pain you have suffered at the hands of a priest in whom you put so much trust,” said David Sherriff-Scott. “The bishop wants to assure you personally that he and the members of the diocese want to learn from these events.”
Tears streamed down the 73-year-old woman’s face as Sherriff-Scott told her Durocher would like to work with families such as hers to further address abuse issues in the community and establish ways to better handle similar situations in the future.
“He (Durocher) wants you to know that he’s watching your testimony today,” said Sherriff-Scott, “and that he hopes and prays that the pain that you have experienced will not be in vain.”
While on the witness stand Thursday, Brisson talked about the time her son told her he had been abused by a priest whom the family held in high regard. It was in early January 1986 when Ben called to tell her he was separating from his wife.
“(He said it was) on account of a person who had caused him problems,” said Brisson, “but he couldn’t tell me who it was at that time.”
Within a couple of weeks, Ben visited his parents and told them he had been sexually abused by Deslauriers over a three-year period, beginning in 1977 when he was 16 years old and the priest was serving as a chaplain at a city high school.
Brisson said Deslauriers had been a close friend of the family, had shared in celebrations and had even married some of her seven children. She said she contacted the diocese and spoke to a priest there who told her Bishop Eugene LaRocque was out of town.
“He (the priest) said, ‘Leave it with me. We can pray about it. Just leave it to me,'” said Brisson.
She said initially the family thought they could deal with the matter within the church, but she said in time, after no action was taken on the part of the diocese and Deslauriers relocated to a diocese in Gatineau-Hull, the family decided to take matters into their own hands.
They contacted the media and within days, Ben’s story was broadcast on local television and radio stations. Just as quickly, Brisson said, police informed the family two officers had been assigned to investigate her son’s allegations.
Within months, Deslauriers was arrested and charged with 16 sex-related offences involving a number of young boys in the Cornwall area. By the time his matter was set to go to trial, the number of charges had dropped to 11, but just before the trial was set to begin, the priest pleaded guilty to four counts of gross indecency involving four boys, one of whom was Ben.
The judge in the case handed Deslauriers a sentence of two years probation.
“(You were told of) the sentence the judge had ordered,” said Pierre Dumais, commission counsel.
“Well,” said Brisson, “if you can call that a sentence, yes.”
“You didn’t agree with the sentence?” asked Dumais.
“It was so vague,” said Brisson. “We didn’t know what was going on.” In the days following the decision, Brisson received a visit from the two police officers who investigated her son’s case.
“What were their impressions of the sentence?” asked Dumais.
“I think it was the same as mine,” said Brisson. “I don’t think they were satisfied with what had happened.”
In the years following the case, Brisson said the suffering her son endured and the resulting lack of action on the part of the church caused great emotional damage to her family, including Ben’s six siblings.
“Our children felt betrayed by all of this,” she said. “Everything which had been taught to them was meaningless.”
Brisson broke down in tears when she was questioned about her family’s involvement with the church today.
“Two of my children have resumed their religious practice,” said Brisson, frequently wiping the tears from her cheeks, “and the others have abandoned the faith.”
“This is very important to you?” asked Comm. Normand Glaude. “To be a practising Catholic?”
“Well, for my husband and myself it actually strengthened our faith,” said Brisson.
“For our children, it was quite the opposite.”
The inquiry will resume Tuesday when it’s expected Ben Brisson will take the stand.