Niagara Bishop who Disappeared Amid Abuse Case Found in Montreal

May 19, 2012

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The ornate downtown cathedral was preparing for the inauguration of Montreal’s new Archbishop, but the private investigators waiting outside weren’t there for the ceremony. They were waiting to serve court papers to the former leader of St. Catharines’ Roman Catholic church, a man who resigned and disappeared two years ago amid a growing sex-abuse scandal in his diocese.

The investigators had to time it perfectly. “Once he was on hallowed ground, we could not serve him,” said Rob Talach, one of the lawyers pursuing Bishop James Wingle in a civil lawsuit, explaining that in Quebec, no one can be served court documents on religious property or during a religious holiday.

Mr. Talach works for Ledroit Beckett Litigation Lawyers in London, Ont. The law firm hired the private investigators to help track down the bishop. Based on internet photos and public sources, they determined that he was either in Ottawa or Montreal. It wasn’t until they came across this photograph of Bishop Wingle walking in a religious procession in Montreal that they planned the stakeout.

The now 65-year-old bishop, with white hair and a matching white clerical collar, showed up at Montreal’s Mary Queen of the World Cathedral at 6:50 p.m. on April 27, and before he could enter he was served with a notice of the civil lawsuit related to the sexual abuse of altar boys by former priest Donald Grecco.

Mr. Grecco, who served in Welland, Ont., and Cayuga, Ont., pleaded guilty in March of 2010 to sexually abusing three altar boys between 1978 and 1986. The incidents were brought to the Niagara region Roman Catholic church in the 1990s and early 2000s, during Bishop Wingle’s leadership, but the victims allege that the diocese did not take appropriate action.

Michael Blum, one of Mr. Grecco’s other victims, went to the diocese in 2005, but said in an interview that “they did nothing, they turned a blind eye.” He then took his case to the police.

“This effort to hear from Bishop Wingle was to find out exactly what happened.” said Mr. Talach, the lawyer representing the 48-year-old Ontario man identified in court documents by his initials who is suing Bishop Wingle. “We want to know what he did or didn’t do when he learned of Grecco.”

The victim behind the lawsuit was molested by Mr. Grecco, his local parish priest of the Diocese, when he was 15 years old.

Shortly after Mr. Grecco pleaded guilty in 2010, Bishop Wingle resigned from the Southern Ontario diocese. Bishop Wingle, originally from Eganville, Ont., said he was “no longer able to maintain the necessary stamina” required to fulfill his duties.

“If my shortcomings and limitations have caused any disappointment,” he wrote in his resignation letter, “I ask for God’s mercy and your understanding.”

And with that, Bishop Wingle disappeared from the community.

Bishop Wingle and Roman Catholic officials in Montreal and St. Catharines did not return requests for comment.

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