Bishop's Apology Too Little for Victim
Returning to the Parish Where Many Assaults Happened to Hear the Bishop's Sermon Is Too Painful for One Victim

By Jane Sims
London Free Press [Canada]
August 6, 2006

An unprecedented public apology for a priest's sexual sins, expected today in a Chatham church, should have been made to the victims first, not a parish traumatized by Charles Sylvestre's abuse of little girls, one victim says.

The memories at St. Ursula's parish are too painful and raw for Lynn Petcoff, 41, of London to return to her childhood spiritual home.

Petcoff is one of 11 women who asked the court to have her name removed from a court-ordered publication ban in the case.

She said yesterday she'd be surprised if any of the 47 women Sylvestre abused attend the mass today to hear Bishop Ronald Fabbro, head of the Roman Catholic diocese of London.

"I can't go. I can't go back there," she said.

Sylvestre, 83, of Belle River, pleaded guilty Thursday to 47 counts of indecent assault against young girls from the early 1950s to early 1980s.

It's believed to be North America's largest case of priest sex abuse in a non-residential school setting.

On Thursday, following the guilty pleas, 21 of 47 victim impact statements were read to Ontario Court Justice Brice Thomas in a packed court.

The others, including Petcoff's statement, are expected Sept. 22. when the case resumes in court in Chatham.

Petcoff heard the heart-breaking testimonials Thursday, some from school chums.

The victims in the case were all girls, ages about nine to 14, in some of Sylvestre's parishes in Windsor, Sarnia, Chatham and Pain Court during his 40-year career as a priest.

Two of the victims attended London's Mount St. Joseph Academy, a Catholic girls' school, where Sylvestre was chaplain in the 1950s.

Sylvestre fondled his victims' breasts. Some told of him sticking his hands in their pants, fondling and groping them and bouncing them on his groin as he sat in a chair.

Some spoke of him exposing himself and two victims said he had intercourse with them, allegations Sylvestre denies.

Twenty-nine of the 47 victims named in the criminal charges were abused when Sylvestre was at St. Ursula's.

Petcoff said it's wrong Fabbro didn't apologize directly to the women before making a public display.

"I can't believe they are going to hold it in a church where it's happened and think it's OK," she said.

In a statement Thursday, Fabbro apologized to the victims for the abuse and the church's failure to protect them.

He's expected to preach a sermon about the church's existing and future response to sexual abuse by priests.

"I don't know any of us who would want to go and hear another priest talk about sexual abuse," Petcoff said.

"That doesn't make sense."

Another of Sylvestre's victims, Irene Deschenes of London, is organizing a rally in support of victims outside the church during today's mass.


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