Cornwall Standard Freeholder

02 February 2009


Rev. Claude Thibault is a man of images.

Exhibit A is a small painting, signed “Tibo,” that hangs at Blessed Sacrament Parish, where the 48-year-old has celebrated mass since 2006.

Exhibit B is his passion for photography — a passion that becomes abundantly clear as he has his photo taken for this story.

And Exhibit C is the words the Cornwall native with the aquamarine eyes uses to describe the agonizing decision to publicly tell his story at the Cornwall Public Inquiry.

Twenty-three years ago, in 1986, Thibault testified in court about his abuse at the hands of Rev. Gilles Deslauriers, a former priest with the Alexandria-Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese. He testified under the safety of a publication ban — a ban he chose to have lifted before appearing at the inquiry in October 2007.

“It was like a pair of crutches,” he says. “When you break your leg, the crutches are very important, necessary, and good to have.

“But as you heal, if you keep them, they become a hindrance. And that secret had become a weight and I didn’t need it any more.”

In one very significant way — the fact he maintained his Catholic faith and became a priest himself — Thibault is a world apart from the other victims and alleged victims who testified at the inquiry. But he’s linked by the emotional struggle he went through before he told his story in such a public forum — one that’s broadcast not only in Cornwall but around the world over the Internet.

“Many individuals felt very proud of the fact that they stepped forward and testified. They felt proud of their courage,” says Colleen Parrish, the inquiry’s policy director and the woman in charge of Phase 2, which has a mandate to foster healing and reconciliation in the community.

Before Thibault took the stand, he was referred to in testimony and exhibits with the moniker C-1. If you’d asked him five years ago whether he’d ever consider testifying without the safety net of anonymity, his answer would have been a blunt no.

“Shame is always involved. There’s always the fear, what are people going to say, what are people going to think,” he says. “And the fact that I’m in a very public ministry, there’s definitely a risk involved.”

Thibault decided to let his parishioners know he’d be testifying the weekend beforehand. It was easier that way, rather than having to sheepishly explain his reticence after they’d found out through the media.

At three separate masses, speaking to a few hundred people each time, Thibault dropped two bombshells on his congregation: one, that he’d been sexually assaulted by Father Deslauriers, and two, that he’d be retelling that experience at the inquiry.

Thibault laughs when he recalls his parishioners’ reaction during the first Saturday evening mass: dead silence.

“You could’ve heard a pin drop after I finished,” he says. “But I had no reason to run away. So I stood at the door, shaking people’s hands, and that’s where people expressed all kinds of words of encouragement.”

And in a close-knit community like Cornwall, words travel fast. When he came clean at his two Sunday masses, Thibault received standing ovations.

Thibault says he always wondered, outside of his close friends and family, just how many people knew he was one of Deslauriers’ victims. He swiftly realized the answer was very few.

“Most people said, ‘We had no idea.’ They knew about the Gilles Deslauriers case. They knew there were a certain number of victims.

“But most people have said to me that they had no idea, and I don’t see why people would lie about that.”

Unlike Thibault, Jamie Marsolais was already a well-known local figure when he testified in October 2007.

Marsolais had gone public with his story of how he’d been sexually abused by two men a few months after the inquiry was called. He was a founding member of Survivors of Sexual Abuse (SOSA), a local support group.

On the stand, Marsolais was candid. He talked about getting married at the age of 16, his heavy drinking in his 20s, his addiction to escorts and exotic dancers.

“I said if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it all, so that I can help as many people as possible,” he recalls today. “So I did talk about, y’know, sex addiction, and then some of the choices I had made in life and so on.”

Describing the ensuing response, Marsolais says, is “a bit of a tough one.”

On the positive side, those who were close to him remained supportive, and other sexual abuse survivors came to him to tell their own stories.

But then there were the quizzical stares in coffee shops from people who’d read his testimony in the newspaper. Marsolais even had to go to the police after one person accused him online of being a sex offender.

Over the past year, Marsolais says he’s been spending more and more time outside of Cornwall, trying to find some comfort out of the spotlight. He says he’s still proud of the things he’s done —including spearheading a drive to bring a men’s shelter to Cornwall — but the past few years have been “a tough road” to walk down.

“People knew a lot of the intimate details of my own story and personal life,” he says.

“I felt a little uncomfortable and nervous. But then I said no, you know what, I chose to do this. So I was able to stand up straight and keep my chin up.”

Of the more than 160 witnesses who appeared at the inquiry, about 50 — slightly less than one-third — registered for witness support through Phase 2. Of those 50, 36 testified as victims or as victims’ relatives.

Parrish says there’s no one response that’s typical of all abuse survivors, and she certainly understands why someone might have mixed feelings about having told their story in a public forum.

She says she also heard from “a few people” who found it difficult to deal with their scheduled testimony dates being delayed. Witness support services did their best to explain how those delays were an unfortunate part of the inquiry’s process, she says.

Regardless, Parrish commends anyone who took the leap of faith and told their story at the inquiry.

“I certainly admire all of the people who have done their public duty,” she says.

And that certainly seems to have been Thibault’s motivation — to come forward first in 1986, and then publicly in 2007, so that other sexual abuse survivors would realize they are not alone.

“People can argue over whether it (the inquiry) was the right way to go about it or not, but I believe other communities will look up to us in the future,” he says.

“That’s certainly my hope and belief.”

– – – #5 Inquiry


In the mid 1990s, Ron Leroux alleged he’d seen prominent citizens–including priests, businessmen, and police officers –ritualistically abusing young boys at a cottage on Cameron’s Point decades earlier.

His claims formed the basis for Project Truth, a four-year investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police into the possibility a clan of pedophiles had preyed on children in and around Cornwall.

The investigation found no evidence of a clan, however. And when Leroux took the stand at the inquiry in 2007, he admitted he lied to exact revenge on his own alleged abusers.

“I was angry for being molested,” Leroux said. “I wanted to get back at them somehow.”

Leroux testified he’d never seen the ritualistic abuse–which allegedly involved boys, robes and candles–in person. He also removed names from a list of people he’d earlier said would gather together on an island east of Cornwall.

Medical issues kept Leroux–who told the inquiry he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder–from completing his cross-examination.