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the troubled church

Bernard Prince shown in a photo that was taken at a wedding in October, 1979.

As early as 1963, the diocese of Pembroke, Ont., heard allegations that a priest, Bernard Prince, was sexually abusing a young boy, but the bishop at that time took no action and Mr. Prince was transferred to Rome, court documents allege.

Mr. Prince went on to molest at least a dozen boys in eastern Ontario until 1984, the former Roman Catholic priest and Vatican official admitted in a guilty plea at his criminal trial two years ago.

The documents are among court filings that include an extraordinary letter the late Pembroke Bishop Joseph Windle wrote in 1993 to the pope's envoy discussing how to keep the allegations against Mr. Prince from reaching police.

It would be another 12 years before the police received a complaint about Mr. Prince.

The documents were filed at the Pembroke courthouse by the plaintiffs in civil suits against Mr. Prince and the diocese.

They allege that Mr. Prince was twice posted to Rome right after allegations of misconducts were raised, first in 1963, then in 1991.

In an affidavit, a former parishioner named Barry Conway said that he was told by the brother of a local priest, Rev. John Green, that Father Green learned of "Prince's problems of abusing boys" as far back as 1963.

Mr. Conway said he was told that Father Green had reported the matter to the bishop of the time, the late William Smith.

The documents also show that Mr. Prince was appointed assistant pastor at a parish in Arnprior, Ont., in June, 1963, but by September had been sent to Rome.

The usual term of an assistant pastor is two to five years, the plaintiffs' lawyer Aaron Lealess said in an affidavit. "An unusually brief assignment, such as Prince's four-month assignment in Arnprior . . . is usually accompanied by some reason," Mr. Lealess said in his affidavit.

The filings also detail how Mr. Prince was posted a second time to Rome, in 1991.

In the previous months, in 1990, the diocese heard that a 34-year-old man from Killaloe, Ont., was alleging that he was abused as a young altar server by Mr. Prince.

One court filing is an unsigned August, 1990, letter about Mr. Prince. It begins: "The following information is being forwarded to your Excellency since the priest in question has either worked or is currently working in your jurisdiction."

The letter says that the diocese heard hearsay allegations from the family of the former girlfriend of the Killaloe man.

"Unfortunately the girlfriend's sister works for the penitentiary system and she appears to be urging the family to expose the priest," the document said.

"The father is also a former employee of the same institution and has had in his charge at least one priest serving a term for sexual abuse. The father, however, appears to be more docile."

The letter also says the victim even considered killing Mr. Prince.

"It was also reported that the victim told his former girlfriend that he planned a trip out of the country - when the priest was also making such a trip - to `do him in,' since he felt there would be less chance of being caught."

The Killaloe man eventually spoke to Father Green in October, 1990, and said he didn't want to report Mr. Prince to police but wanted him get counseling and be supervised.

Other court documents show that Mr. Prince was referred to a Toronto psychiatrist in the fall of 1990, with the help of the Toronto archbishop, the future cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic.

In a statement yesterday, the Pembroke diocese said that those actions showed that the church had "done its best to be proactive and responsible."

By January of 1991, Mr. Prince was transferred to Rome.

In his 1993 letter to the nuncio, Bishop Windle said he didn't object to the transfer because it would "remove him from the Canadian scene."

In its statement Friday, the Pembroke diocese noted that Bishop Windle, in his letter, said it was hard to assess the accuracy of the allegations.

"The Diocese did not at the time, and does not today, feel that the emotional impact on the victims was underplayed or trivialized," the statement said.

In his affidavit, Mr. Lealess, however, argued that the 1993 letter showed how "one objective of the diocese was avoidance of scandal or harm to the reputation of the diocese."

"One redeeming factor is that it would appear that the victims involved are of Polish descent and their respect for the priesthood and the church has made them refrain from making these allegations public," the letter said for example.

"Had this happened elsewhere there would be every danger that charges would have been laid long ago with all the resultant scandal."

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