Defrock Sex Abuser Priest, Angry Victims Demand - 'No Rational Reason Why He Shouldn't Be Fired': Lawyer

January 17, 2008

By: Andrew Seymour, Ottawa Citizen

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The lawyer representing eight of the 13 men sexually abused by Msgr. Bernard Prince says several of his clients are "adamant" that the retired Ottawa Valley priest be defrocked for his crimes.

"This guy has breached every fundamental tenet of being a priest. Not just once or twice, but for decades," said Rob Talach, of the London law firm Ledroit Beckett. "That alone should be reason for him to lose that prestige and that position. At the end of the day, there is no rational reason why he should not be fired," said Mr. Talach.

On Monday, Msgr. Prince, 72, was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading to, and being found guilty of, 13 charges of indecent and sexual assault involving young males between 1964 and 1984.

A spokesman for the Pembroke diocese, where Msgr. Prince was ordained, said senior officials were meeting yesterday to discuss their options for dealing with Msgr. Prince under canon law, the internal ecclesiastical code governing the Roman Catholic Church.

"The process didn't begin until the guilty verdict was rendered," said Bruce Pappin. "Like in court, we consider innocent until proven guilty."

An expert in canon law said the diocese has no choice but to send the matter to the Vatican, where a decision will ultimately be made on whether Msgr. Prince should be subject to 'laicization,' which would remove his right to exercise any priestly duties and return him to being a lay person.

"There are special rules when it involves a minor.

These are out of Rome and they are very specific and the bishop does not have a lot of authority once the case goes to Rome," said Patrick Cogan, a professor of canon law at Ottawa's Saint Paul University.

Under rules put in place in 2001, Mr. Cogan said the diocese is required to notify the Vatican office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith if "there is any sense of truth" to allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor.

After reviewing the file, the Vatican can then request the priest voluntarily request laicization. If the priest refuses, it can be imposed by the Pope, said Mr. Cogan. Canon law in Canada differs from that in the United States, where priests are removed from their duties if allegations of misconduct with a minor are proven.

"In the United States, it is one strike, you're out. That is not the law in Canada," said Mr. Cogan, adding it is possible for a priest accused of sexual misconduct with a minor to return to work. "The Canadian bishops have a little bit more flexibility than the American bishops."

Mr. Talach said the Catholic church needs to seek laicization for Msgr. Prince to send a "strong message" to the victims and the public that sexual abuse among clergy will not be tolerated.

"Any other occupation -- a teacher, a counsellor, a doctor, a day-care worker -- they would be terminated and they would not have a job waiting for them when they came back from prison," said Mr. Talach, who intends to file a lawsuit against the Pembroke diocese and Msgr. Prince on behalf of the eight victims in the next 30 days.

Mr. Talach said Msgr. Prince's retirement and a court assessment that determined he was a low risk to reoffend should not stand in the way of having him removed from the priesthood.

"It said he was a low risk to reoffend. It didn't say he was a zero risk to reoffend," said Mr. Talach. "Should he still be able to slap on a Roman collar and go do a wedding or a mass? All that default instant trust and authority and respect that comes from that position and that uniform, should that still be open to someone who has shown a complete history of sexual deviance?"

Court heard that the abuse at the hands of Msgr. Prince occurred mostly at his Wilno cottage and Ottawa apartment. The males were between 10 and 16 years old when the assaults occurred. Msgr. Prince pleaded guilty to 12 of the charges, while he was found guilty of a 13th.

Court heard the assaults usually occurred in bed, where a naked Msgr. Prince would fondle and masturbate the young males. In several cases, the complainants reported anal intercourse or oral sex, although Msgr. Prince denied those allegations.

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