'He Should Die in Jail'

By Jane Sims
London Free Press [Canada]
August 5, 2006

In many ways, Lou-Ann Soontiens was Charles Sylvestre's perfect victim.

Abandoned by her mother at six months old, she was raised by her devoutly Catholic grandfather.

His wife -- her step-grandmother -- saw her as worthless and stupid and nothing more than a monthly social services cheque.

But Sylvestre made her feel special. And she confided to the priest about everything.

"He was my saviour. I couldn't wait sometimes to go over there. He was so comforting and took care of me.

"He made me feel very special and I was the only one."

Sylvestre betrayed that trust. In the years since she was so horribly abused, the Chatham woman has tried to put the shattered pieces of her life back together.

Sometimes they don't fit.

"He wrecked my life," she said.

She's now on her third marriage. Her husband, a devout Catholic, wondered why "these women" were accusing the priest.

Soontiens had disclosed her abuse only to a civil lawyer. After some counselling, she was able to tell her husband.

The first time Sylvestre abused her, he touched her breasts and put his hands in her pants. She ran home and told her grandfather. He ordered her to shower and sit on a kitchen chair until he talked to the priest.

He returned and called her a liar. He told her to dress, then took her to Sylvestre to confess.

After that, she was summoned often. Sylvestre told her what he was doing was good. Don't tell.

"He knew I was raised with my grandparents and he knew my grandfather adored him being a priest," she said. "I just believe he took advantage of both of us."

The abuse continued for seven years. Sometimes Sylvestre would come to school and take her out of class.

Once, Soontiens told a teacher she didn't want to go because he hurt her. The nun told her to go anyway.

She failed a grade.

He began to rape her.

Then, at 14, she discovered she was pregnant. Her grandfather spoke to a doctor, then to Sylvestre. She was given an abortion.

Sylvestre denies raping her or any penetration, but pleaded guilty to indecent assault. Soontiens is suing the priest in civil court, alleging she was raped.

While hospitalized in London for an abortion, she says, Sylvestre was the only person who visited her.

After she returned home, she awoke once to find her grandfather with his hands on her stomach and weeping. He said he was sorry and left the room.

She thought he was going to abuse her too. She left home shortly after and never spoke to her grandfather again. She knows now he likely came to realize she'd been molested and raped.

Soontiens was only 15.

She didn't go back to school and survived through waitressing jobs. She married at 18, a union lasting six years and producing two children.

But her husband wanted sex all the time. She was never very interested.

Her second husband was abusive and he died.

Sylvestre's abuse still haunts Soontiens. The resolution of the case won't help her, she said. At 50, "It's been too long."

She's angry at the diocese that shuffled Sylvestre from place to place.

She wants the diocese held accountable.

"I think you've got to get them in the pocketbook. That sounds really awful, but you have to get them where the money is."

In some ways, she said, Sylvestre still controls her. "I'm having nightmares, really bad nightmares that he is going to come back and get me."

"He should die in jail," she said. "I hope we get our day in court first and then he can die.

"I said if there's really a God, would He let that happen to a little girl?"


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