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36 B.C. priests in Vancouver Archdiocese identified as allegedly involved in sexual abuse

'The brutality of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults is a widespread tragedy that affects every corner of society'
A file review of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy within the Archdiocese of Vancouver has uncovered 36 cases, most of them involving minors. (via Shutterstock)

A review of files of Catholic clergy sexual abuse in archdiocese has uncovered 36 cases, most involving minors, the Archdiocese of Vancouver said in a report released Nov. 22.

And the names of Roman Catholic priests believed to have been involved in the sexual abuse of minors are being turned over to non-Catholic investigators.

Of the 36 cases, three involved priests currently in the ministry, said the report, which made 13 recommendations. Nine priests are named in the report.

The diocese is not aware of any priests currently working in other dioceses who have not been charged or who have been convicted of having abused children or adults, the report said.

No priests convicted of abuse are working in the diocese, the report said.

The report indicates that cases were being reported while Adam Exner was Archbishop of Vancouver. Exner was on the stand recently, as part of a civil suit dealing with an incident while he was the bishop in Kamloops.

Archbishop Michael Miller said, “the brutality of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults is a widespread tragedy that affects every corner of society.”

He asked for forgiveness as the archdiocese works to deal with the issue.

“Nothing can undo the wrong that was done to you, I nonetheless wish to offer each of you my heartfelt apology for the trauma, the violation in body and soul, and the sense of betrayal and abandonment by the Church that you feel,” Miller said in a pastoral letter.

“For those occasions when we failed to protect you or when we were more concerned with the church’s reputation than with your suffering, I am truly sorry and ask for your forgiveness as I strive to make amends and bind your wounds,” Miller said.

He said it has taken the global Catholic Church far too long to address the “particularly devastating consequences when that abuse is perpetrated by a priest, whom the faithful hold in a position of trust.”

The review work was done by a committee appointed by Miller last year following disclosures of global sexual abuse involving clergy 12 complaints of sexual abuse dating back to the 1970s and '80s.

“Three of these allegations were not historical, however, but involved the activities of priests who were currently in ministry,” the report said. “These priests were immediately removed from ministry while the allegations were investigated. Only one has been allowed to return to ministry, once it was determined that his case did not involve sexual abuse.”

Twenty-five cases involving abuse of minors by clergy were presented to the review panel for a period covering 1950 to the present. One case involving abuse of a minor not initially identified by the lawyers was presented to the committee. Seven cases involved inappropriate sexual behaviour or abuse between a cleric and adults, and three cases involved priests who had fathered children.

The report said a devastating realization in these historical cases was that victims who came forward had to sign confidentiality agreements, which meant that their stories were not made public.

“When abusers’ names are made public, other victims feel able to come forward,” the report said. “Thus, there are still people in this Archdiocese who continue to suffer in silence, keeping unhealthy secrets to themselves, living in shame that is not theirs to hold, believing they are alone and believing they are the only ones who have suffered such violation and degradation at the hands of a particular priest. This has to stop, and this has to stop now.”

The report identifies five priests criminally convicted of abuse:

  • RCMP investigated Paul J. Blancard regarding an incident in Burnaby in 1967 or 1968 involving a sexual assault of a girl, aged six or seven, in St. Helen’s Parish. No charges were laid. Police in 2016 received two more allegations dating to the time of ministry there. A complaint, regarding his time in the Diocese of Victoria was made to the RCMP in 1990. Charges were laid in 1992. Blancard was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison. He has not been active in the priesthood since that time;
  • George Gordon, who died in 2000, was charged in connection with abuse of three boys in the 1950s at Holy Rosary Cathedral. The behaviour was reported at the cathedral at the time and again in 1967. He remained in ministry until two of the victims reported the crimes to the archdiocese and police in 1989. At the time, he acknowledged the existence of other victims. Gordon was convicted in 1992 and sentenced to six months in jail;
  • John McCann, who died in 2018, was convicted in 1991 of six counts of sexual abuse of girls under the age of 16 in the 1970s and served 10 months in jail. The abuse occurred when he was serving at St. Augustine’s Parish between 1972 and 1973, and St. Peter’s in New Westminster between 1975 and 1990. The archdiocese of Vancouver removed his capacity to be a priest but, unknown to the archdiocese, he subsequently served as a priest on Salt Spring Island in the Diocese of Victoria and in the Archdiocese of Ottawa;
  • Harold McIntee (died 2016) was arrested in February 1989 and charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse. Many victims were boys in residential schools in the dioceses of Kamloops, Prince George and Victoria. At the time of arrest, he worked in Diocese of Victoria parishes in Ucluelet and Tofino. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in jail plus three years probation for sex abuse of 17 boys in British Columbia over 25 years, and;
  • Alfred Frank Louis Sasso, (died 1991) a priest of the Diocese of London, Ontario, pleaded guilty in 1980 to three counts of gross indecency against three youth in Ontario. He was convicted there and sentenced to three months in jail. On release, he came to Vancouver, where he worked at the cathedral, St. Patrick’s Parish and Sts. Peter and Paul parishes in Vancouver between 1981 and 1984.

Two cases involved lawsuits:

  • Lawrence Edward (Damian) Cooper admitted to a relationship with a young woman he met as a seminarian when she was 15. Their relationship became sexual several years later, by which point he was a priest. The woman reported the relationship to the archdiocese in 1994. Just prior to receiving the accusation, the archdiocese had permitted him to transfer to the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon for family reasons. When Vancouver learned of the matter, he was sent for residential psychological treatment. In 1995, he obtained an assignment in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, NY, but was later accused of having a sexual relationship with an adult there and ceased ministry. When he contacted the Archdiocese of Vancouver in 2002 to seek priestly ministry here, he was refused and is no longer in priestly ministry. In 2012, the Vancouver victim launched a civil lawsuit against Cooper, which was settled out of court, and;
  • Antero Sarmiento (died 2019) was the subject of complaints of inappropriate behaviour to the archdiocese in 1980, at which time Sarmiento returned abruptly to the Archdiocese of Manila, which had allowed him to work on loan to Vancouver since 1977. Police obtained an arrest warrant on three charges of indecent assault in 2004, but he refused to return here for questioning by police despite the Archbishop of Vancouver’s requests to his own bishop. Three subsequent civil lawsuits by his victims were settled by the archdiocese in recent years.

Other public cases:

  • Edwin Budiman was charged in 2007 with two criminal sexual offences involving minors. Both charges were later stayed by the Crown but measures pursuant to church’s own law led to his removal as pastor, then to restrictions on his ministry and private life that were increased in April 2019, when he was strictly prohibited from all public ministry and counselling activities, and from wearing clerical dress, and;
  • John Eason was convicted in 1995 of one count of indecent assault involving a 21-year-old woman in Powell River in 1980. The woman reported to police in 1994 that he had touched her breast. He pleaded guilty and was ordered to serve a two-and-a-half-year term of probation, during which he was required to undergo counselling.

The report said, “the archdiocese has dealt with a number of cases that are not mentioned here. These courageous claimants who contacted the archdiocese were heard and believed. The fact that these cases are not dealt with in this report does not mean they were unfounded. Each file will be reviewed with care by the newly appointed independent lawyer-investigators.”

Among other recommendations, the committee suggested listing convicted, admitted and credibly accused clergy who served or resided in the archdiocese.

The archdiocese is working on a new policy integrating report recommendations with Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse issued by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

– Jeremy Hainsworth, Glacier Media