Three Roman Catholic priests representing the London diocese willbe in a Chatham courtroom tomorrow to hear first-hand theheart-breaking stories of women sexually abused by a fellow priest.
The priests will hear the 26 victim-impact statements on thesecond day of the indecent assault trial of Rev. Charles Sylvestre ofBelle River.
The retired 84-year-old priest is at the centre of the largestsexual abuse case faced by the diocese and one of the largestnon-residential school cases known on the continent.
Sylvestre pleaded guilty to 47 counts of indecent assault in August.
The victims were between the ages of nine and 14 at the time ofthe assaults committed between 1953 and 1986. All were in Sylvestre'sparishes in Windsor, Sarnia, London, Chatham and Pain Court.
The diocese said it is responding to criticism that Sylvestrewas the only person wearing a priest's collar in the courtroom the dayhe pleaded guilty.
Diocese spokesperson Ron Pickersgill said the priests will be there "learning and listening to the stories."
He also said the diocese has asked Sylvestre not to wear his priest's collar tomorrow.
One of the three priests will be Rev. John Sharpe, a vicargeneral hand-picked by Bishop Ronald Fabbro to take on theresponsibility for the area of clergy sexual abuse.
Fabbro made an unprecedented apology to the victims lastmonth, vowing to urge that Sylvestre be defrocked and to eliminatesexual abuse in the diocese.
Fabbro is unavailable to attend the hearing, Pickersgill said. "It's Father Sharpe's job to go on behalf of the bishop."
Also attending will be Rev. Robert Champagne, the episcopalvicar for Kent deanery and Rev. Dan Vere of Chatham's St. Ursula'sparish, where 29 of the victims were abused.
Champagne also served in Immaculate Conception parish in Pain Court where four of the victims attended.
Twenty-six victims are expected to be heard from over the day-long hearing.
The other 21 gave their impact statements at the last court appearance on Aug. 3.
They described a disturbing pattern of child abuse perpetrated by a man they trusted.
Sylvestre, known as Father Feeler and Sylvestre the Molester onschool playgrounds, hand-picked little girls, many from devout Catholicfamilies, to be volunteers for special church duties.
All of them had their breasts fondled. Others described himputting his hands down their pants and digitally penetrating them. Somevictims said Sylvestre had sexual intercourse with them.
He admitted most of the abuses, but said his memory is foggy. He denied any intercourse.
Pickersgill stressed the priests are not there to steal the limelight from the serious issues in the courtroom.
None of the priests will be giving media interviews, he said.
He added they considered in their decision the effect on the victims and stressed the diocese wants to be sensitive to them.
The three priests will not be the only church officials in attendance.
Sister Eleanor Gleeson, superior general of the UrsulineSisters in Chatham, said she will be there "to support the victims andtheir families."
The Ursuline Religious Order has been based in Chatham formore than a century and were the initiators of Catholic education inthe area.
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