Sex abuse victim sues St. Catharines diocese

The Toronto Star/October 5, 2010

St. Catherines - The memories came flooding back for Mike Blum about seven years ago, when one of his sons, then 8, asked about becoming an altar boy. He became hyper protective of the boy. No, unlike Blum, he was not permitted to serve near a priest.

In 2005, when Blum learned that the St. Catharines Catholic priest who had molested him - beginning in 1978 when he was 14 and an altar boy - was working at a grief counselling job that involved contact with children, he decided he must tell the church what had happened to him.

It was the third known time the diocese heard allegations that Donald Grecco had sexually abused boys. The mother of another altar boy came forward in 1986. Another complaint was made in 2001. The incidents occurred between 1978 and 1986.

Yet, Grecco, who comes from a prominent Catholic family, had continued as a priest.

By the time Blum came forward on Sept. 23, 2005, Grecco had stopped wearing his collar and was apparently working as a counsellor.

Blum sat in an office at the Diocese of St. Catharines' headquarters on the Merrittville Highway in Thorold and, before two senior clergy, let it all out. "I was crying," he told the Star. "Breaking down."

The two clergy, according to Blum, told him there was nothing they could do, and tried to cheer him up by making a joke about an upcoming golf trip they were taking. "We'll pray for you," they told him.

The meeting lasted 15 minutes, said Blum.

Blum next went to the Ontario Provincial Police, and the case widened to include two other young victims. In March, Grecco, 70, pleaded guilty to acts of gross indecency. His sentencing has been delayed due to unspecified health problems.

On Tuesday, Blum announced at a news conference that he is suing Grecco, the diocese and former bishop James Wingle, who resigned unexpectedly two weeks after Grecco pleaded guilty. Wingle cited "stamina" issues in a brief resignation letter.

"Many questions have gone unanswered," said Blum's lawyer, Rob Talach. "What did the diocese know about Grecco, and when? When and why did he cease to be a priest? Was the Vatican informed of Grecco's indiscretions at the time he was released from the priesthood? How many victims of Grecco, and of other priests of this diocese, is the hierarchy aware of? What is the diocese doing today about this crisis in their church?"

Since Wingle's resignation, the diocese has been mostly silent on the case. A Star request Tuesday for comment went unanswered.

Although Grecco has pleaded guilty to molesting Blum and two others, many of the allegations contained in Blum's civil suit have not been proven in court.

Blum alleges Wingle, who became bishop in 2005 before Blum complained about Grecco, failed to inform the Children's Aid Society of the allegations, didn't conduct a full investigation and didn't go to police with Blum's allegations, nor support Blum to do so himself.

The diocese has indicated to the Star in the past that it followed its abuse complaint protocols on the Grecco case but did not spell out those measures.

Blum, who requested the court lift a publication ban on his name, brought a picture of himself at the age of 14 to the news conference and read aloud from his victim impact statement, directed at his abuser.

"I trusted you, my parents trusted you and the community trusted you," said Blum. "I believed in God, I believed in the Catholic Church and I believed in you. Because of you I have lived a lie my whole life. You could have done great good; you chose to inflict great pain."

Until court, the last time Blum, now 46, saw Grecco was when he was 19. The priest was at his mother's funeral. Blum's father had died the year before.

Blum, who has three children and two stepchildren, said his health has deteriorated, particularly since coming forward. He has masked his pain with alcohol, has often thought of suicide and on one occasion was locked in a psychiatric ward. He thanked his supporters, including his wife, Gina McIntee.

Blum is seeking $3 million in damages, which is common in such cases. Settlements are usually much lower.

The statement of claim has been served on the diocese. But according to an affidavit, attempts to serve the former bishop were unsuccessful. Msgr. Wayne Kirkpatrick informed a process server that Wingle was still involved with the church but "could not provide...any information as to his whereabouts," reads the affidavit.

Attempts to serve Grecco were also unsuccessful. He is to appear in a Hamilton court for sentencing on Oct. 29.

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