The Catholic Register: Canadian Bishop Apologizes at Parish for Priest's Sexual Abuse

Catholic Online [Canada]
August 10, 2006

Chatham, Ont. (The Catholic Register) London Bishop Ronald Fabbro has pledged to seek the laicization of a priest convicted of 47 counts of indecent assault, as well as revise the diocese's policy on how to deal with clergy sexual abuse.

The bishop made these promises at Mass Aug. 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration, in a moving homily to the congregation at St. Ursula's Church here, one of the parishes where Father Charles Sylvestre committed his crimes against young girls.

Father Sylvestre, 83, pleaded guilty on Aug. 3 to 47 charges involving girls aged nine to 14. The assaults took place between 1954 and 1985 in parishes in Chatham, Windsor, Pain Court, Sarnia and London. Sentencing is still to come.

In canon law, a priest can only be laicized by the Vatican upon appeal by the local bishop.

"I sincerely apologize to the victims and their families for the abuse they endured at the hands of Father Sylvestre, and for suffering the consequences of that abuse over the years," Bishop Fabbro told the congregation.

"I apologize as well for the failure of the church to protect the victims and their families from Father Sylvestre," he said.

In the homily posted on the Web site of the Diocese of London, Ont., (, the bishop talked about hearing the stories of the victims, many of which were read out in court.

"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. Love, and time, and reconciliation can help to heal broken hearts," he said. "For my part, I am ready to meet personally with any victim and any victim's family. Real healing can only happen after real reconciliation."

The bishop observed that priests are "rightly held by the faithful to the highest standard of morality and conduct and to be in a position of sacred trust."

Yet, over the years, Bishop Fabbro acknowledged, priests have abused children.

His own diocese, of which he became bishop in 2002, has had an abuse prevention policy since 1989. It was toughed in 1994, after the release of "From Pain to Hope," guidelines to prevent clerical sexual abuse issued by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Now the policy will be further strengthened.

"The abuse of minors has been a scourge in the diocese of London that must end," he said. "I pledge myself as the bishop of London to do my utmost to end it."

Bishop Fabbro has appointed the diocesan vicar general, Father John Sharp, to consult with people in the diocese and revise the policy taking into account what has been learned about sexual abuse in recent years.

"There can be no justification for abuse. There are explanations for the church's failure to take the appropriate steps in the past to protect victims from abusive priests, but these explanations seem weak, especially with the acute vision given by hindsight," he said.

"For Catholics, it was once unthinkable that priests would abuse children. This culture of disbelief affected all of the church from parents on to school teachers, to priests and even to bishops," he said. "So, in many cases, the victims were victimized twice: first by the abuse itself and then by refusal of others to believe them. Some were made to feel guilty for making an accusation and some believe, even today, years later, that they themselves are at fault for having been abused."

About 35 of the 47 victims have signaled that they will sue the diocese for failing to prevent the assaults. The lawsuits will name, besides the diocese, the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, the St. Clair Catholic District School Board, the Grey Nuns and the Sarnia police department.

"In our society, justice is ordinarily seen as monetary compensation paid to the victims for the harm done to them," Bishop Fabbro said in his homily. "But we all recognize that money cannot compensate the victims adequately in the Christian vision of justice. True justice also includes reconciliation, and it is my profound hope that the victims and their families will be open to reconciliation."

The diocese has already been paying for counseling for some of the victims. Bishop Fabbro said this will continue and he encouraged those who have not disclosed abuse to come forward.

"I want this day to be the beginning of a transfiguration for the victims and their families. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ and deserve our support and love. As your bishop," he said, "I pray that the morning star, to which Peter refers, will raise in their hearts and in the hearts of us all."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.