Insufficient proof: A Catholic priest is acquitted of sex charges after accusing other priests of pedophilia

The Report

08 October 2001

by Terry O’Neill

Ontario’s anti-pedophile police task force, Project Truth, wrapped up in late August with word that, while its work had led to the laying of 115 criminal charges against 15 individuals, investigators had found no evidence that an organized ring of men, including Catholic priests, had molested boys from the 1950s to the ’90s. However, just two weeks later, one of the accused men took the witness stand in his own defence and told a stunned courtroom that, while he himself was innocent of the three counts of indecent assault and two counts of gross indecency laid against him, a ring of sorts did exist in the Cornwall area and that Catholic authorities knew about it.

Days later, Superior Court Justice Jean-Paul Lalonde acquitted the man, retired priest Father Paul Lapierre, on the grounds of reasonable doubt. The verdict shocked the alleged victim (who, by court order, cannot be identified). It also left a burning question in the minds of the many politicians, peace officers and citizens who have long sought justice in the case: if the court saw fit to believe Fr. Lapierre’s testimony about his innocence, then should not his disclosure about the conspiracy be considered truthful as well? Ontario MPP Gary Guzzo, a retired judge, thinks so and is renewing his call for an official inquiry into the handling of the case.

The story began in 1992 when a man told police that he had been sexually assaulted by a Cornwall priest during the 1970s. The church then gave the complainant $32,000 to drop his allegations. The next month, then constable Perry Dunlop came across the complaint and gave it to child-welfare workers. The $32,000 deal became public, and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) launched a new investigation. In 1994, however, officers said there were no grounds to lay criminal charges.

The investigation was reopened in 1995. Also that year, lawyer Malcolm MacDonald, who had assisted the church in making the $32,000 deal, pleaded guilty to obstructing justice. In 1996, police charged the accused priest, Fr. Charles MacDonald, with seven counts of indecent assault on three former altar boys.

That was not the end of it. In 1997, Mr. Dunlop gave the OPP two volumes of victims’ statements he had collected on his own. The documents alleged the existence of a pedophile “clan” in the Cornwall area. Shortly thereafter, the force announced the formation of Project Truth.

Prosecutors have been able to secure one conviction based on the task force’s work: Jean-Luc Leblanc of Newington, Ont., pleaded guilty to 18 charges of sexual assault. Four of the men charged under Project Truth have died of natural causes and two have committed suicide. Among those charged, lawyer MacDonald died in 1999; Dr. Art Peachey died the same year; Roch Landry and Brian Bernard Dufour died in 2000; charges were dropped against former justice of the peace Keith Jodin last year; Lionel Carriere was found unfit to stand trial last year; Harvey Latour was found not guilty; and a judge entered a stay of proceedings against Jacques Leduc after the Crown failed to inform defence attorneys of a meeting between Mr. Dunlop and one of the witnesses. A trial involving Fr. Kenneth Martin, 71, began September 17; five other cases, including Fr. MacDonald’s, have yet to be heard.

Fr. Lapierre’s often-contradictory testimony did not touch on the conduct of any of those charged, but was, nevertheless, scandalous. As reported in the Ottawa Citizen, Fr. Lapierre said he knew his accuser had been abused because other priests told him of indecent acts against several boys. As well, Fr. Donald Scott told Fr. Lapierre that another priest, Fr. Hollis Lapierre (no relation), “kept pictures of naked boys with himself,” said Fr. Paul. He testified further that after Fr. Hollis died in 1975, Fr. Scott “had been asked to destroy those pictures” and other evidence. Fr. Scott died of AIDS in 1989. Fr. Lapierre also testified Dr. Peachey was involved in the molestation of boys.

When asked why he had not reported the offences to police, Fr. Lapierre, who is the brother of Senator Laurier LaPierre, said he had discussed them with his bishop, but the matter went no further. “It’s privileged…you’re dealing with moral things, ethical things.” He denied he kept the abuse secret because he himself was involved.

Among those worried by the outcome of the Leduc and Lapierre cases is Dick Nadeau, a Cornwall resident who was recently found in contempt of court and fined $1,000 for maintaining a Web site containing many unproved sex allegations against a large number of Cornwall-area men. “I get so angry,” he says. “I don’t know what it takes to get a conviction. I’m in a state of shock.”

Court watcher Sylvia MacEachern, editor of the Catholic publication The Orator, blames the verdicts on “a combination of cover-up and massive incompetence at all levels.” She notes that Mr. Justice Lalonde told Fr. Lapierre’s alleged victim that he believed the abuse had taken place, but with whom and by whom could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Whistler-blower Dunlop, who now lives in B.C., remains convinced something evil was at work in Cornwall. However, he says, “these victims are coming forward and bearing their souls to the best of their ability, and they are being re-victimized by the court system…My feeling is that they are not going to get a conviction in these [remaining] cases.”

If that is true, the victims may have to look to the civil courts. There, the standard of proof is lower: only “a balance of probabilities” must be proved. Several alleged victims have already filed suit, and the first case may begin as early as next year.

Tim Bates, a Toronto lawyer, points out that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that, in cases of sexual assault involving breach of fiduciary duty, there is no statute of limitations. Says the lawyer, “It’s totally open.”