Victims Want Sylvestre Inquiry
Lawyer Says 'Silent Shuffle' Kept Priest Moving around Diocese
By Trevor Wilhelm
The Windsor Star [Canada]
August 18, 2006
Victims of a confessed pedophile priest want the London diocese to pay part of the cost of an inquiry examining why, for decades, the church turned a blind eye to his abuse of young girls.
At a news conference in London today, the law firm Ledroit Beckett was to call for an inquiry on behalf of several victims of Rev. Charles Sylvestre. It will also demand three other convicted priests be defrocked.
"They need to be accountable, as far as I'm concerned," said Mary Beth Studnicka, 41, of Tecumseh, who became Sylvestre's victim at the age of 10. "They let us all down and justice won't be served until everyone takes responsibility for their actions. It's time."
Sylvestre, 83, a retired Roman Catholic priest living in Belle River, pleaded guilty Aug. 3 to sexually abusing 47 young girls over a 36-year span. Several victims launched civil suits seeking millions of dollars from Sylvestre, as well as the diocese for not stopping him.
Studnicka said Sylvestre began abusing her in 1975 after recruiting her to count the collection.
"Then he'd proceed to touch me sexually," she said. "He would also touch girls very boldly on the school ground. That was when the confusion came in as a young girl. Why wasn't anyone telling him to stop?"
Lawyer Rob Talach said the diocese should cover some of the costs of an inquiry because many officials and others involved with the church knew what Sylvestre was doing.
Talach called it "the silent shuffle" because the diocese moved Sylvestre around to different parishes and kept a lid on his past.
"It is a huge problem and it is institutional," he said. "Something needs to be done, and the church needs to fund some of it. It's almost a wilful blindness. The public purse shouldn't pay for all of this."
He said the government should pay for some of the cost, however, to ensure the investigation remains impartial and the public interest is served.
But with a similar inquiry into an alleged pedophile ring in Cornwall, Talach admitted that might be a tough sell. He said a review, which is like a mini-inquiry, might be a compromise.
"I don't know if there is the political will," he said.
Brendan Crawley, spokesman for Ministry of the Attorney General, said he couldn't comment because the case is still before the courts.
Victim impact statements and the reading of facts continues Sept. 22. Sentencing is set for Oct. 6.
"It's certainly premature to comment on any inquiry," Crawley said.
Diocese spokesman Ron Pickersgill said Thursday the diocese wouldn't comment until hearing what comes out of today's news conference.
"It would be inappropriate to comment based on what he's going to say," said Pickersgill. "It would be inappropriate to say anything ahead of time."
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