LONDON, Ont. - In an unprecedented move, the London Diocese in Ontario will consider asking the Vatican to defrock all eight of its convicted pedophile priests.
The statement came yesterday on the heels of a news conference by London law firm Ledroit Beckett demanding the diocese defrock priests Barry Glendinning, Konnie Przybylski and John Harper, the latter having taken boys on weekend getaways to his parents' Windsor home.
In the past two decades, eight London Diocese priests have been convicted of sex crimes against children. The others are Charles Sylvestre, Gary Roy, Cameron MacLean, Robert Morrisey and Richard Boll.
"Bishop Fabbro is already reviewing other cases to see whether he should seek the laicization of other convicted priests," the diocese said in a written statement. "This action does not require a request from the individuals harmed by these men, but such a request would be appropriate."
Bishop Ronald Fabbro said this month he would ask the Vatican to laicize, or defrock, Sylvestre, 83, who was wearing his collar this month when he confessed to sexually abusing 47 young girls over four decades.
Ledroit Beckett lawyer Rob Talach said that when the victims of other priests heard that, they demanded the same fate for the priests who had attacked them.
"A priest is a priest for life," Mr. Talach said. "Whether retired or relegated to [an] administrative post, these men still operate within an environment where they have great authority, unquestioned respect and potential access to vulnerable young people. There is no rational reason why convicted sex offenders should be able to retain the prestige, authority and powers which the vocation of priesthood provides."
Four victims, all clients of Ledroit Beckett, spoke out against their abusers yesterday.
Glendinning was convicted in 1974 of six counts of gross indecency against six children. He was put on probation and within the same year was sent to St. Claire of Assisi in Windsor as an assistant pastor. Complaints about him there led to his transfer to Edmonton, where further complaints resulted in his transfer to Toronto.
Przybylski was convicted two months ago of sexual assault and sexual exploitation of two altar boys in Port Dover from the mid-1990s until 2000. Mr. Talach said that after a complaint was made about him in 2000, he was moved to a London parish.
Harper was convicted in 1988, and again in 2003, of sexually abusing boys at an Aylmer parish and at Regina Mundi College in London.
Harper took boys to his parents' house in Windsor and abused them there, said victim Don Bannon.
"It was just sexual abuse," said Mr. Bannon, 57. "We slept in the same bed. The defrocking is a starting point. They're finally starting to do something. They've done nothing in the last 40 or 50 years. What Bishop Fabbro is doing now should have been done back then. It's a start."
Diocese spokesman Ron Pickersgill pointed out the diocese is only examining the other cases and isn't actually requesting that any priest but Sylvestre be defrocked.
But even that is unheard of in Canada, he said. Mr. Pickersgill said there have been some "notorious" cases in the United States, but this will be the first time a Canadian diocese has sought to defrock a priest convicted of sex crimes.
"It is an extremely rare, extremely serious move," he said.
Mr. Pickersgill said the bishop hasn't officially set a new direction for the Church, but added Bishop Fabbro seems to be meeting the issues more directly than others have in the past.
"We are experiencing things are being done differently," Mr. Pickersgill said. "He's letting his statements and actions speak for themselves."
Irene Deschenes, 44, one of Sylvestre's victims from Chatham was not optimistic.
She said the Church is only asking that Sylvestre lose his collar because he had so many victims and his crimes have grabbed such a public spotlight.
"How many victims are enough?" she asked. "What is the diocese standard? The only reason Bishop Fabbro is starting the process to defrock Sylvestre is because his back is up against the wall. After 47 guilty pleas, I'm sure there has been pressure put on him to say, 'Whoa, look at all these women. This is wrong. We can't have him in our ranks.' "