They Were More Than God

November 2, 2009

By: Eva Hoare, The Chronicle Herald

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No one questioned all-powerful village priests

IT'S A CONVERSATION Del Boudreau won't soon forget.

An old school chum who'd just learned that Mr. Boudreau had been molested for years by their parish priest back in Wedgeport reached out to him for a chat.

The man told Mr. Boudreau that he used to regret repeatedly being passed over when Rev. Adolphe LeBlanc walked down the aisles in school, picking out potential altar boys.

"But he never picked me," the man told Mr. Boudreau. "I'd go home crying."

Those days were the beginning of horror for Mr. Boudreau and other schoolboys who had the "honour" of being singled out by Father LeBlanc.

Mr. Boudreau and lots of other young altar boys well knew not to go against the power of the village priest.

"They were more than God," says the retired insurance company owner. "You can't explain . . ."

Now Mr. Boudreau, his brother Ken and a host of others are suing the Roman Catholic dioceses of Halifax and Yarmouth for sexual abuse at the hands of Father LeBlanc, who is now dead. They kept quiet about the abuse for decades, a testament to the church's cold grip.

Now they're speaking out, trying to explain the culture of secrets that shrouded their rural Yarmouth County village of 1,800 and numerous other places in Nova Scotia.

"You gotta go back to that time, the early '60s, late '50s, where in these French Acadian parishes, the church was so strong," Mr. Boudreau said in a recent interview.

"We figured there were about 40 to 50 kids (all boys) in my village" who were abused.

They had no television back then and they were isolated from the rest of the world. There was just the church.

"You went to church. You went to school," Mr. Boudreau said. "You had religion in the school, you were taught by nuns up till high school. That was the life."

The abused boys weren't seen as weak by their peers, but they were powerless against a priest who controlled their lives and a devout village of residents who worshipped the cleric.

"Men that are tough, strong, rough, they talked to me (years later). They would never dare go public to save their lives," Mr. Boudreau said, his voice thick with frustration.

"It took 50 years for all these events to come out."

Philip Latimer likely feels the same way.

He launched a $2-million lawsuit against the dioceses of Halifax and Antigonish in mid-October, spelling out in court documents his fears of a priest he was continuously told was a flawless agent of God.

Mr. Latimer was taught "that priests are God's chosen representatives on Earth and have special powers, and that priests are to be viewed with special reverence, power, respect, honour and authority," his court papers state.

The all-encompassing power of the church was not to be questioned, nor were the actions of the priest, his lawsuit says.

"Church is supreme'

"The diocese taught the plaintiff, as well as other Roman Catholics, the following: that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true religion and is the representation of God's true teachings on Earth; that the authority of the Roman Catholic Church is supreme; that by following the rules, principles and ideologies of the Roman Catholic Church one will gain the right to go to heaven, and that by failing to follow same, one will not go to heaven and will go to hell," the documents state.

Mr. Latimer believed his "soul was in jeopardy" if he didn't obey his abuser, Rev. Allan MacDonald, who has since died. (Neither case involving Mr. Boudreau or Mr. Latimer has been proven in court.)

The fear of the village priest wasn't restricted to altar boys. Even some of Wedgeport's young girls would cower when they saw Father LeBlanc's black car coming down the street.

One time, Mr. Boudreau remembers, the girl who is now his wife and her friends were wearing trousers instead of dresses while riding their bicycles, and they feared the priest would see them.

"So they would hide in the ditch when they saw that black car coming down the road. That's how powerful (he) was."

It's easier for an authority figure like a priest to sexually victimize children, says psychologist Cliff Seruntine, who has worked with sex offenders and has a private practice in Antigonish.

"There can be a cultural aspect . . . the family and community basically want to bury what happened," said the psychologist, who also does consulting work in other Nova Scotia towns.

"You have somebody who's already in a position to be respected. It's that much easier for them."

And the overriding belief that men of God are immune to flaws can lock down the secrets of the abuse for good.

"It's unwise, dangerous to your soul, to question people who work for God," Mr. Seruntine said, recounting religious teachings not unlike those that Mr. Latimer learned.

"Even bringing the attention to matters of authority . . . could be dangerous in terms of your spiritual life, but it also made your life in the real world very difficult too."

Predators "groom' victims

Mr. Seruntine said predators "groom" their victims, and since children are taught to believe that adults are "smart" and "have their best interests" in mind, it's easy to see why sexual abuse victims remain silent.

That's how Mr. Boudreau felt for more than half a century. The shame, the guilt, and finding ways to shut out the pain all that time were sometimes more than he could stand.

He originally sought solace in alcohol. He's now been sober for 28 years, but he says it's not hard to understand why he thought liquor was the answer.

"Why do you think 85 per cent of us turned to the bottle? . . . It eases the pain," he said. "It was something to take away the pain, it's the guilt, the pain, the embarrassment. You question yourself. We all had lots of trouble."

Mr. Seruntine, who had a childhood friend who was sexually abused by a priest in Louisiana, said sexual abuse victims generally have enormous amounts of anger, even years after the abuse has passed.

"It's not uncommon to have victims . . . yelling and screaming (at the psychologist)."

The majority of sexual predators rarely reform themselves, he said. And these "masterful" manipulators, brimming with charisma, often fail to see that they've done anything wrong.

"Some really don't understand (what's) the big deal," he said. "They think the kids had a good time."

Mr. Boudreau's truth about Father LeBlanc's abuse was buried so deep that he even allowed the priest to officiate at his wedding.

"At that time, I didn't tell my wife," Mr. Boudreau said. "He was the parish priest, what was I going to say, 'I don't want him to marry (us)?' They'd say, 'Why?'

"Even if we had told our parents (back then), what the heck could they have done? Would they have gone to the bishop? It just wasn't done."

Mr. Seruntine understands that point of view.

"There's tremendous pressure within that community that the church is right . . . that the church can't do wrong," he said.

So Mr. Boudreau, like many other victims, turned the burden inward and went on with his life as best he could.

His brother ultimately became a pastor, but Mr. Boudreau said he himself is no longer a member of the Catholic Church.

"If I got anything to do with God, I do it directly," he said.

And he has a message for anyone else who has suffered from abuse.

"Never, never forget, it wasn't your fault," he said.

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