Beckett Personal Injury Office In Downtown London

November 10, 2009

Priest, 68, Jailed Five Years

by Steve May, The Sudbury Star

Roman Catholic Priest Bernard Cloutier was sent to prison for five years Monday for sexually assaulting four young boys more than quarter century ago.

The five-year term is less than the eight years sought by the Crown, but is more than the two years suggested by the defence.

Cloutier, 68, showed no emotion when the sentence was handed down.

Outside court, the four victims, who ranged in age from 12 to 17 years at the time of the assaults, expressed relief.

The four, along with family and friends, watched as Cloutier was led from the courtroom in handcuffs to begin his prison term.

Just how long Cloutier will remain behind bars wasn't clear, however, because he has already filed an appeal with the Ontario Court of Appeal over his conviction.

His lawyer was expected to file an application with the court today for his release on bail pending that appeal hearing.

"It's like a weight has been lifted," said one of the victims, none of whom can be named because of a court order.

Cloutier was convicted of four counts each of indecent assault and gross indecency, as well as two counts of sexual assault.

In each case, Cloutier befriended the boys and became close friends with their parents. He was, said Superior Court Justice Paul Kane, "a trusted and frequent guest in their homes."

He was a local leader of the church and as such held incredible persuasive power, Kane said. But "he abused his position of trust for his own sexual gratification."

He was friendly and generous to the boys, endearing the friendships with gifts and providing them access to adult privileges, including alcohol, said the judge.

He preyed upon the young boys at a time when their sexual identity was still developing. Some of the assaults r a period of years, he said.

Cloutier did not use threats of violence with the boys, Justice Kane said. Instead, he used his power and position in the church.

When allegations of the assaults first surfaced from two of the boys in 1983, Cloutier and then diocese Bishop Gerard Dionne showed up at the home of one of the two, while police were there conducting an investigation.

Immediately upon entering the home, Dionne took over the probe. He talked to the two boys separately in an upstairs bedroom and then came down to the main floor where parents and police had gathered to announce he was satisfied nothing improper had happened.

The bishop "knew that statement was a lie," Kane said. He was attempting to close down the investigation.

"It was a classic case of interception, misrepresentation and damage control."

And it was enough to end the police probe at that time.

"I recognize that Bishop Dionne is not on trial here and the Catholic Church is not on trial here. I am only concluding that the bishop and a priest (Cloutier) participated in a shutdown of a police investigation for 25 years."

It was not until 2007 when the charges would once again become a matter for the police. By this time, the number of incidents had grown.

While Cloutier did not speak at that 1983 meeting, he allowed events to unfold as they did for his own benefit, Justice Kane said.

"He was a participant in shutting down the police investigation and after that he made the decision to remain silent, that whatever was done was done."

Cloutier's assaults were "actions not simply of adult male, but rather someone who held an elevated position of his church, which is an internationally recognized religious institution."

Cloutier had the power of a priest to the parents of these boys who were devote Catholics and whose strong and lifelong beliefs impacted on their daily lives.

The role of the priest "was not just one of trust. It is one of power and of trust ... near mythical power."

It was not surprising, given that fact, that some 60 people wrote letters of support for Cloutier, said the judge.

The sense of loss and betrayal felt by Cloutier's victims did not just impact them, but so many around them, Kane said.

"What is striking is that after 25 or 30 years, the damage is still ongoing. It has still not stopped. There has still not been, in many cases, a resolution of that damage."

In handing down the five years, the judge said "one must look at the injury, the duration of that injury and the harm" it has caused.

bvaillancourt@thesudburystar.com

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