Disgraced Priest Dies a Prisoner

January 24, 2007

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was lying in almost a fetal position and a deep congestion had filled his chest.

"He was not coherent or conscious," said victim Carol Ann Mieras, who was abused when she was a member of Chatham's St. Ursula's parish and became the last victim to see Sylvestre alive.

"He was not able to answer any questions whatsoever. His pallor was very grey. His breathing was very laboured and he coughed a few times."

Mieras stood near his bed while video equipment was set up in futile hopes of taping a statement.

"It did seem as if the Grim Reaper was standing on his chest in the room waiting for him to go," she said.

Rob Talach, a London lawyer with Ledroit Beckett, also attended the meeting that was set up following a court order his firm sought because of concerns about Sylvestre's failing health. There were lawyers from several law firms, one for the diocese, one for Sylvestre and one for the Grey Nuns, who have been named in a civil action.

Talach said the room resembled a prison cell and Sylvestre's condition was "shocking."

"From the man I saw at the sentencing in October, I didn't even recognize him," Talach said. "He was unresponsive and physically atrophied."

Sylvestre's victims -- all of whom had suffered with the secret shame of sexual abuse by a trusted priest -- reacted with both shock and sadness.

Many said they felt sorrow for Sylvestre's family, particularly his sister in Belle River who had cared for him before he went to prison.

Chatham-Kent Crown attorney Paul Bailey said victim witness workers were on standby for any women who needed support.

"There's no joy in this for anybody," Bailey said. "The fact Father Sylvestre died in prison is just an additional layer of tragedy, which is spurring us on even more to work toward prevention."

At the time of Sylvestre's sentencing, many had viewed the three years as a life sentence for the frail octogenarian who had a variety of medical problems. He had been in the Kingston Regional Hospital -- part of Kingston Penitentiary -- for three days.

Corrections Canada spokesperson Diane Russon said Sylvestre had been in palliative care. He had been assessed to serve his sentence at the Bath medium-security prison, but "he never got there.

"I do believe family had been in to see him within the last days of his life," she said.

The correctional service will be conducting an internal investigation and a coroner's inquest will be ordered -- a standard practice.

Sylvestre's death marks the end of one chapter in a case that shocked the church community and pushed both London Bishop Ronald Fabbro and Sylvestre's victims to call for reforms within the church to stop the scourge of sexual abuse by priests.

But Sylvestre died as he lived -- a priest. His position remains unchanged, despite calls from both Fabbro and the community to have him de-frocked. The petition to have Sylvestre dismissed from the clerical state had been forwarded to Rome.

The diocese of London released a brief statement about his death yesterday and would not comment further.

"We continue to feel grief and shock at the revelations of his actions and we say again that we deplore all instances of sexual abuse and sexual impropriety, especially by clergy or anyone in the Church's employ, towards minors," the statement said.

Fabbro directed all parishes to pray for Sylvestre's victims, their families and supporters and for Sylvestre's family and "for the repose of his soul."

Funeral arrangements were not complete and it is expected Sylvestre's funeral will be private.

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