Sexual assault by priest haunts victim
A sexual assault by a priest on a 10-year-old girl in the middle of the night has caused the victim to lose her faith in God and her trust in people.
“The sight of any Catholic priest disgusts me and when I see one, I think, ‘I bet that priest has sexually assaulted a child,’ just like you did to me,” the 46-year-old woman told Omer Desjardins as she stood across from him in Saskatoon provincial court.
Desjardins, 82, pleaded guilty to one count of indecent assault, stemming from the incident in 1978 in a small community north of Saskatoon, and lawyers made sentencing arguments Tuesday in Saskatoon provincial court.
Desjardins doesn’t remember the specifics of what happened, but accepted the woman’s allegation — that while they were both guests at her grandparents’ house one night, he came into her room and sexually touched her.
He was battling alcoholism then and was drinking that night, his lawyer George Green said in court. It “doesn’t excuse his behaviour,” Green said, but added that Desjardins stopped drinking in 1981 and completed a course in 1984 that allowed him to become an alcohol addiction counsellor.
Desjardins was ordained as a priest in 1958 and worked most recently as chaplain at Saint Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, but he retired in September — after the charge was laid — “for the good of his employer,” Green said.
The victim decided to report the crime to police last year. In her victim impact statement, she said she kept the crime buried for too long and she believed the world and Desjardins’ family needed to know what he did to her.
“For years, I tried not to think of what you did to me, but as I look back and think of that night, I realize your betrayal has and always will affect the person I have become,” she said, addressing Desjardins.
“When my daughter, please listen to this, when my daughter sits on my husband or grandfather, I watch to make sure that they are not touching her inappropriately. How sick is that of me?”
Crown prosecutor Matthew Miazga argued for an 18-month jail sentence, saying the primary objective in sentencing in this case should be public denunciation of how Desjardins’ abused his position of trust.
Green argued for a 12-month conditional sentence order, which is a jail sentence served in the community. He noted Desjardins, who has no criminal record, pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and has led a productive life of helping others.
Desjardins previously wrote an apology to the victim, but also read a statement in court apologizing for his actions.
“I recognize that she has had to live with emotional scars all these years,” Desjardins said. “My deepest hope is that by taking ownership for my actions, she will be assisted in her healing journey and be able to find peace and release from the hurt I have caused her.”
Judge Byron Wright reserved his sentencing decision to Jan. 22.