Priest admitted to gay ‘incident,’ not sex assault

Ex-chief disputes interpretation of his notes at Cornwall inquiry

The Ottawa Citizen

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Neco Cockburn

CORNWALL – After an alleged sexual abuse victim made a $32,000 settlement with religious officials and agreed to withdraw a criminal complaint, Cornwall’s police chief says he took the matter to a bishop who told him the accused priest admitted to a sexual incident and would be sent away for treatment.

What former chief Claude Shaver jotted down after that discussion in October 1993 became a sticking point in a public inquiry yesterday, with lead commission counsel Peter Engelmann grilling Mr. Shaver on the issue.

The former police chief was adamant his note, “Charlie admits,” described what the bishop said — that Rev. Charles MacDonald had admitted to having a same-sex encounter, not that he had assaulted the alleged victim, David Silmser.

“I’m a police officer. If the bishop would have admitted Father Charlie had committed an assault, I would have reopened that case immediately,” he said.

Mr. Shaver said the bishop was shaken and flustered during their conversation. The bishop at first used the word “assault” when referring to the subject of the priest’s admission, before changing to say that “Father Charlie had admitted to a homosexual isolated incident,” Mr. Shaver said.

Mr. Silmser’s story hit the media within about three months of the conversation and touched off a sex scandal in the city that helped to spark the Ontario Provincial Police Project Truth investigation and, eventually, the ongoing public inquiry into the institutional response to allegations of systemic historical sexual abuse.

OPP charged Father MacDonald in the 1990s with allegations related to sexual abuse involving boys, but the charges were stayed in 2002 after a judge decided Crown delays breached his right to a timely trial.

Mr. Shaver testified that he had considered the Silmser settlement to be an end-run around the police department and took news of the settlement to the Children’s Aid Society, only to find that it already knew about the case through Perry Dunlop, a Cornwall police officer who had not been assigned to the investigation.

“That shouldn’t happen. He’s not the officer responsible for the file. He has no right to bring that file out of the police department without coming through the proper channels,” Mr. Shaver said yesterday.

After meeting with a children’s aid official, Mr. Shaver took the matter up with the church, visiting Archbishop Carlo Curis, who referred him to Bishop Eugene LaRocque, he said.

The bishop said Father MacDonald denied the allegations, Mr. Shaver testified, and Bishop LaRocque was reluctant to enter into a monetary settlement with Mr. Silmser, he said. Father MacDonald had put up $10,000 of the money because “it was better than his reputation being soiled in the community,” Mr. Shaver said the bishop told him.

Mr. Shaver recalled saying the church had tied the police force’s hands and “this is going to come back and bite us both right in the butt.” The bishop seemed shaken when he told him there were two other complainants, Mr. Shaver said.

Bishop LaRocque agreed to speak to Father MacDonald and phoned Mr. Shaver that evening, saying “Charlie admits,” before discussing the actions that would be taken and apologizing, according to the former police chief’s testimony and notes. The bishop said Father MacDonald would be sent to a treatment centre for priests to be assessed, Mr. Shaver said.

That was a step the bishop had agreed to take if Father MacDonald admitted to assaulting Mr. Silmser, the inquiry had already heard.

In other testimony yesterday, Mr. Shaver delivered an impact statement that railed against “innuendo, rumours (and) outright lies” that have circulated as a result of the allegations of historical sexual abuse, saying his name has appeared on websites linking him to an alleged pedophile clan.

Mr. Shaver, who broke down while reading his comments, said statements that linked people, including him, to an alleged clan, “were not taken to actively seek prosecution of alleged pedophiles, but were simply to bolster a civil case by Perry Dunlop.”

The statements, “under the direct control of Dunlop and his lawyer,” were not protected and were released to media and online, “which cast aspersions on a great many innocent people in this community,” Mr. Shaver said.

Mr. Dunlop has refused to testify at the inquiry and has told media he lost faith in the judicial system. He was sentenced in March to at least six months in jail for cntempt of court.