Roman Catholic Bishop Wants Retired Priest Defrocked

The Chronicle Herald [Canada]
August 7, 2006

Chatham, Ont. — A Roman Catholic bishop will petition to have a retired priest defrocked for sexually abusing at least 47 girls over four decades.

Ronald Fabbro, bishop of the diocese of London, made the vow as he apologized before several of Charles Sylvestre's victims during Sunday mass at St. Ursula's Church, where some of the abuses occurred.

"This conduct over many years warrants Father Sylvestre's dismissal as a priest," Fabbro said.

"As the bishop of the diocese of London, I will petition Rome for the laicization of Father Sylvestre."

One of Sylvestre's victims bolted from the church, finding the moment too difficult.

"It's just too hard," said Lou Ann Soontiens, standing in the lobby and wiping tears. "I want to hear what he has to say, I'm going to go back, but it's just so hard to be in here."

Reaction from other victims varied. Some refused to enter the church. Some cried, but another said it was healing.

"It was more than I thought it would be. It was very sincere," said one woman.

Fabbro informally apologized to those victims who wouldn't enter the church before mass.

Retired and 83, Sylvestre would be unable to administer the sacraments if he is defrocked.

He pleaded guilty last Thursday in Chatham to 47 of 61 sex abuse charges for incidents dating between the 1950s to the '80s.

Sylvestre is to return to court Sept. 22 when the case resumes.

His victims were aged nine to 14 at the time, while he was a priest in Windsor, Sarnia, Chatham and Pain Court.

Many victims said they reported the abuse but that all the church did was shuffle Sylvestre to other parishes.

Fabbro said he knew the apology had to be made once he listened to the stories of the victims, at the request of Chatham-Kent Crown Attorney Paul Bailey, who prosecuted the case, and court psychologist Peter Jaffe.

"In hearing the stories of the victims, I knew right away that their hearts had been broken, and it was heartbreaking for me to hear of their experiences,"he said, adding he's "ready to meet personally" with any victim or family.

Fabbro said the diocese has and will continue to pay for counselling for any of Sylvestre's abuse victims.

Fabbro said he's appointed a former parish priest to help revise diocese policy on responding to sexual abuse complaints and will be available to speak to anyone who wants to contact him.

"I realize some of the victims of Father Sylvestre may be here this morning and would not be willing to go into the church and I fully understand that," he said.

"I want to apologize for the failure of our church to protect children," Fabbro said. "I'm here today to pledge myself as the bishop of the diocese to do my utmost to protect the children."


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