As active members of St. Thomas More Church, the Niagara Falls family was proud when a priest started to show an interest in their teenage son.
“I looked up to him as the leader of the church,” said Matt, now in his late 50s. “We all did.”
The family was unaware the priest’s attention had a sinister goal.
Over a five-year period, Donald Grecco preyed on the teenager to satisfy his own devious sexual appetite.
“Had I gone home and even suggested that something was going on, I’m sure, potentially, I would have been second-guessed over a priest,” Matt said.
Grecco, now 81, was sentenced to 18 months in custody in 2017 on several counts of gross indecency for the sexual abuse of three boys between 1975 and 1982. He was released from jail after serving only six months.
Matt, not his real name, was one of those boys. He cannot be identified under a publication ban imposed during the criminal proceedings.
The Ontario man was frustrated and angered by the criminal court process. He felt revictimized.
He couldn’t understand how a pedophile priest, previously convicted in 2010 of sexually abusing three former altar boys, would receive what he saw as a lenient sentence.
Based on his previous conviction, Matt had expected the penalty to be much harsher for the repeat offender.
“The hurt and the wounds were reopened,” the victim said during an interview from his lawyer’s office Tuesday.
“Our (criminal court) system is so broken.”
Determined to get justice for what happened to him as a child, in 2017 he filed a civil lawsuit against Grecco and the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Catharines.
The trial was set to begin in October 2021.
Within a week of the start of the trial, the case was settled and Matt was awarded $1 million.
He plans to use the funds to support victims of sexual abuse and to develop initiatives aimed at preventing what happened to him more than 30 years ago.
“It is so important that we close that gap between abuse and disclosure,” said lawyer Rob Talach, who represented Matt as well as a number of other victims of Grecco.
The London, Ont., lawyer urges anyone who has been the victim of sexual assault to “come forward sooner rather than later.”
“Right now, survivors are operating at a multi-decade gap and there’s a lot of time there for the abuser to go on and abuse others and a lot of time where they aren’t held to account,” he said.
“It’s also reflective why the courts system isn’t tough on these guys because they look at harmless old men by the time they’re actually caught.”
Matt met Talach by chance.
Total strangers, they happened to sit next to each other on a train. The two men chatted and Talach told him he represents victims of sexual abuse.
“I could literally see his complexion turning grey,” the lawyer said of that first meeting.
When they parted, Talach gave the stranger a business card.
“It took some time, but he eventually reached back out to me and said he was ready to take some steps.”
Matt said he reached a point in his life where “justice had to be done,” and someone had to be held accountable.
“Like any individual, any person, it has had an effect on me,” he said of the abuse he endured.
“For me, I had the ability to block it out a bit better than others, but it’s always there. You close the door to it, but it eventually swings open.”
Matt said he was a naïve 13-year-old boy when Grecco began to show a special interest in him.
The priest would pay the teen for helping out with odd jobs at the Dorchester Road church and serving masses. He also invited him along on trips in both Canada and the United States.
Grecco comes from a prominent Catholic family and his brother Richard, who also previously served as a pastor at St. Thomas More, was a bishop in Eastern Canada before retiring in 2021.
Matt maintains the diocese was aware of what was going, but chose to do nothing other than to transfer Grecco to another parish.
The priest served at St. Thomas More, St. Mary and St. Kevin churches in Welland, St. Alexander in Fonthill, St. George in Crystal Beach, St. Vincent de Paul in Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Stephen in Cayuga.
“The Catholic Church is so blind to something that is so obvious,” Matt said. “This is a perpetually broken-down system that no one wants to deal with.”
Representatives with the Diocese of St. Catharines could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Published on January 5, 2022