Rally Set to Coincide with Bishop's Apology

By Daniela Simunac
London Free Press [Canada]
August 5, 2006

Three Southwestern Ontario, women, including Irene Deschenes, above, tell of how their lives have been devastated by their former priest, Charles Sylvestre. Page A12

Western Ontario's Catholic bishop will be met by a rally in support of victims when he arrives in Chatham tomorrow to formally apologize for the abuses of a now-retired priest.

Charles Sylvestre, 83, pleaded guilty in Chatham Thursday to sexually abusing dozens of young girls across the region between the early 1950s and the early 1980s.

The case resumes Sept. 22.

Bishop Ronald Fabbro of the Roman Catholic Diocese of London, who in a statement Thursday said "the abuse of minors has been a scourge in the Diocese of London that must end," is to preach a Sunday mass at St. Ursula's church where he will formally apologize for the diocese.

There, victims of abuse and supporters will carry signs and hand out leaflets telling people how they can help those who've been assaulted.

"We're encouraging as many people who want, to come and support survivors," said Irene Deschenes of London, an event organizer and one of the victims Sylvestre admitted abusing.

"Everyone is welcome to join us, even if they're not survivors," she said.

Deschenes is unsure how many people will attend the "information gathering," but said she hopes for about 100.

The goal is "to inform the (church) laity and the hierarchy about what our needs are," she said.

"We don't hate the church. We don't hate people. We just want this to go away."

The gathering will be a peaceful event, said Deschenes, adding it is not a protest.

Besides speaking with parishioners, the group hopes to speak with Fabbro "if he's willing," she said.

"Our lives aren't going to be normal -- whatever normal is -- after Sylvestre's (been dealt with by the court). We're still going to be suffering."

The gathering begins at 10:30 a.m. and will end at least a half hour after mass ends.

"We'll stay as long as people are willing to listen to us," said Deschenes.

Ron Pickersgill, spokesperson for the diocese, declined to comment on what measures have been taken, and what will be in future, to prevent abuse in the church.

He said those details will be included in Fabbro's homily tomorrow.

Out of respect for the victims, Fabbro wants to address the church before making those details public, Pickersgill said.

"As a symbolic gesture, he would like to speak first and foremost to the church," he said.

"He will make some very clear statements about what has been done and what will be done in the future."


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