Catholic Church in Canada Has Own History of Sex Abuse

sleddogsOne of the darkest deeds in a dark history of child abuse was how the Catholic Church in the United States shipped pedophile priests to northern Alaska with no warning to the indigenous villages they were supposed to serve. These villages were so poor and desperate that a priest arriving by dog sled every month or so really did seem a godsend. With a few toys and some candy, the child molesters among them could groom generations of children and corrupt whole communities. It’s hard to imagine the layers of damage.

Apparently the Catholic Church in Canada did the same thing. Just last week, a Catholic priest was found guilty in a Canadian court of raping dozens of children and a sled dog. Belgian-born Eric Dejaeger, 67, was convicted of 31 counts of sexual offenses against children and one count of bestiality. Dejaeger acknowledged and pleaded guilty to eight out of 80 original charges.

This was not the first time the Canadian Catholic priest had faced criminal charges for his behavior. In 1990, he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for sexually assaulting eight children in Baker Lake, Nunavut.

The Catholic Church in Canada has not received the media attention that the Catholic Church in the United States has in the last decade. According to some sexual abuse advocates the problem of sexual abuse has not abated due to a lack of media attention. “If there’s a way in which the Canadian Church is better than the American Church, it’s in getting away with the crime,” says David Gagnon, national director of SNAP-Canada, the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests. “The Church treats victims with contempt and malice. They recycle these guys over and over again,” Gagnon says of the Canadian Church’s policy of “reintegrating” fallen priests back into active ministry after treatment. “It’s like asking an alcoholic to work at a liquor store.”

One of the main reasons the Canadian Catholic Church hasn’t received media scrutiny is that the country’s bishops – who run the 71 dioceses in Canada – have refused to share any information about sexual abuse allegations.

One of the more infamous cases concerning a priest accused of sexually abusing minors in Canada involves Polish-speaking Monsignor Bernard Prince (an anglicized form of Prynz), who claimed to be a friend of the late Pope John Paul II. Prince was from Wilno, Ontario, the first and oldest Polish settlement in Canada. In 2006, Canadian authorities issued a warrant for his arrest stemming from the sexual abuse of 13 young boys from 1964 until 1984 in Canada.

In 2008, he was arrested and found guilty of the abuse charges. He was sentenced for four years in prison. Prior to fleeing Canada for the Vatican, Prince had served in positions in the Canadian Church such as the Apostolic Nuncio’s office and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 1985, Father Prince was elected to a two-year term as president of the Canadian Canon Law Society.

According to the Catholic World Report, “upon hearing of the allegation, the late Bishop Joseph Windle of Pembroke did not conduct a penal trial or take less drastic actions, such as suspending the priest’s faculties or sending him to the Clarke Institute of psychiatry in Toronto. Instead, Bishop Windle helped secure for him a Vatican appointment to (in his words) remove him from the Canadian scene.”

The Catholic World Report also noted, “According to a recently discovered letter, he continued for more than a decade in a prestigious Vatican post after two cardinals, and perhaps five other bishops, knew he had been credibly accused of homosexual [sic] abuse.”

Secrecy, cover-up, and a desire to keep intact the integrity and reputation of the Catholic Church in Canada has only served to promote and exacerbate the sexual abuse problem in Canada. It is time to hold these Church authorities accountable for their past actions. If victims don’t speak out and citizens don’t demand change, another generation of Canadians will suffer the consequences.

Dumas Law Group has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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