Lack of accountability, ‘culture of secrecy’ allowed Montreal priest to prey on young boys, report finds

A Montreal priest was able to sexually abuse two young boys, and terrorize several others over a 20-year span, because top officials in the Catholic Church ignored complaints about his behaviour and, in some cases, tried to keep serious allegations secret, according to a damning new report.

The priest, Brian Boucher, worked at 10 churches in Montreal during his career, which began in the early 1980s. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2019 after being found guilty in one case and pleading guilty in another.

“What struck me most was the passing of the buck,” Pepita Capriolo, a former Quebec Superior Court justice who wrote the report, said Wednesday when asked what stood out during her year-long investigation.

“The need to protect the reputation of Boucher seemed to be paramount.”

Capriolo’s report documents years of inaction by Boucher’s superiors and, in some cases, efforts to keep troubling allegations secret. That allowed Boucher to keep working as a parish priest despite a multitude of warning signs.

“The primary culprit is the lack of accountability of the people involved in Boucher’s education, training and career. Complaints were ‘passed on’ and no one took responsibility for acting on them,” Capriolo said in her 276-page report, commissioned by Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine last November.

Two of the province’s most powerful Catholics figures in the last half-century, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, once a candidate for the papacy, and Cardinal Jean-Claue Turcotte, now deceased, were among those aware of Boucher’s behaviour, according to the report.

But for decades, the only action taken was to send Boucher to therapy and psychological assessments. 

In preparing her report, Capriolo said she spoke with more than 60 people and read through hundreds of documents. She said she was granted complete independence but that, at times, documents were missing.

“The culture of secrecy, which reigned in the Church during the period covered by this investigation, caused the disappearance of important documents and the general lack of a paper trail,” she said.

Capriolo’s report builds on an investigation conducted last year by CBC News, which relayed how Montreal parishioners had raised concern about bullying and worrisome relationships with young boys.

‘Worrisome’ relationships go unchecked

Capriolo notes that, from early on, many raised concerns about his unacceptable behaviour. He was describe as “rude, authoritarian, overly intense, homophobic, racist, misogynist and verbally, and sometimes even physically, aggressive.”

Those concerns were “repeatedly reported to his superiors” and there were rumours about his “untoward interest in young boys” since the 1980s.

Brian Boucher was arrested in 2017 for sexual crimes against children. He was sentenced to eight years in prison last March. (CBC) (CBC)

At the end of the 1990s, he had a “very close and worrisome relationship” with a young boy she refers to as “Jeremy.” The boy was frequently alone with Boucher and, according to the report, members of the Church noticed marks on his neck.

In 2003, according to the report, there was an unwanted sexual advance directed at an 18-year-old student from Mexico.

After a night of smoking cannabis and drinking alcohol during the 1998 Ice Storm, the student ended up fleeing the rectory without  putting on his shoes after Boucher made a sexual advance.

In 2003, there was also an abusive relationship with a 19-year-old that led to him receiving psychological treatment but, again, no disciplinary action was taken.

There were further allegations of inappropriate behaviour in 2006. They were dismissed.

The report states that in 2011, “a senior official of the Church wrote a lengthy, detailed summary of Boucher’s ongoing failings in order to stop his reappointment as a pastor of a parish. The official left on extended sick leave and Boucher was reappointed.”

In 2016, Boucher was finally subjected to a more thorough internal investigation, after he claimed he had been the victim of sexual abuse by a “much younger fellow priest.” It turned out he had been the “perpetrator and not the victim,” according to Capriolo’s findings. 

That investigation, conducted by Bishop Thomas Dowd, resulted in the conclusion that there were “at least two child victims.”

Archbishop commits to following through on recommendations

Capriolo’s report includes 31 recommendations. Many of them are geared toward ensuring priests in the Church are held more accountable.

The first recommendation is that an external ombudsperson be tasked with investigating the conduct of priests at each stage of their career.

At a news conference Wednesday, Lépine apologized to Boucher’s victims.

“In the name of the Catholic Church in Montreal and speaking to myself personally, I wish to say how sorry we are that you have had to experience the effects of such terrible acts, which should never have occurred,” he said.

He committed to “acting decisively” to ensuring such abuse doesn’t occur again.

Capriolo will chair a committee along with Lépine to follow through on the recommendations.

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