Former St. Paul’s principal among eight Jesuit priests, brothers who worked in Manitoba ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing minors
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Eight priests or brothers who spent time working in Manitoba are among 27 the Jesuits of Canada claims were “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors as far back as the 1950s.
The Jesuits, a religious order of the Catholic Church, released a list of names Monday — and said more could be added — after reviewing thousands of documents.
The list includes former St. Paul’s High School principal and retired priest John Pungente. The Jesuits said there was one credible allegation of child sexual abuse against him.
The Free Press has not independently verified the allegations against the priests or brothers.
The Montreal-based Jesuits, which declined to do a phone interview, did not say if any of the alleged incidents occurred in Manitoba.
St. Paul’s said it was “deeply saddened” to learn former employees Pungente and George Topp, a priest, were on the list.
“It is with deep sorrow that I share these names and I painfully recognize the life-long impact that the trauma of abuse has on the victims,” St. Paul’s president Kevin Booth said in a statement. “St. Paul’s High School remains committed to providing a safe and supportive learning and growth environment for all our students.
“While we cannot change the past, I want to assure our students, parents, alumni and community that we are and have been dedicated to doing everything we can to prevent abuse.”
Booth said the school has policies for preventing, reporting and investigating abuse.
St. Paul’s has handed out awards and bursaries in Pungente’s name.
He was a teacher at the Grant Avenue school from 1964-67 and 1971-76, and was principal from 1976-1983.
Topp taught at St. Paul’s from 1968-1974. The Jesuits said he also spent time at St. John Brebeuf Parish.
The other accused priests or brothers who had ties to Manitoba are: Joseph Barker, Fernand Desrochers, Robert MacDougall, Wilfred Harris, John Lepine and William Savoie.
MacDougall, who was 81 when he died in 2004, was assigned to St. Ignatius Parish in Winnipeg. He later worked on the television show 100 Huntley Street in Toronto, according to his obituary.
MacDougall, Harris and Lepine worked at St. Paul’s College, according to the Jesuits.
St. Paul’s College was chiefly a high school with a post-secondary component on Ellice Avenue until it was split into two institutions in the 1950s.
The post-secondary component took the St. Paul’s College name when it moved to the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry campus.
None of those named by the Jesuits were employed by the current college at the U of M, said its rector Prof. Christopher Adams.
Pungente turns 84 this year and is believed to be living in Toronto. He could not be reached for comment.
He is one of only three men on the list who is still alive. The others who worked in Manitoba are dead.
Pungente’s status with the Jesuits is “restricted,” and he has a safety plan, the list stated.
Safety plans require supervision, and they may restrict movement and contact with parishioners and young people, according to the Jesuits’ website.
After leaving Winnipeg, Pungente had pastoral assignments in London, England, and Toronto, according to the list
He was a director of the Jesuit Communication Project, a media literacy initiative that had a TV program, Scanning the Movies for several years.
Former St. Paul’s student Paul Wiecek began attending the private, all-boys Catholic school when Pungente was its principal and a film studies teacher in the early 1980s.
“He was this charismatic guy, but there was this weird sort of edge and vibe that he gave off,” said Wiecek, a retired Free Press columnist.
He said Pungente regularly showed up in a locker room while boys changed out into their suits after arriving by bus in the morning.
“He would kind of mingle and walk around,” said Wiecek. “He always had these innocent explanations for why he was down there. In today’s climate, none of this would be allowed to go on.”
Older students, said Wiecek, advised the younger boys to avoid the principal.
“He was this charismatic guy, but there was this weird sort of edge and vibe that he gave off.”–Paul Wiecek, former St. Paul’s student
Students were surprised when they returned in September 1983 and Pungente was no longer the principal.
“The only explanation was he was called away,” said Wiecek.
Pungente was chair of the Manitoba Film Classification Board in the 1970s, according to the Manitoba Historical Society’s website.
Wiecek also recalled MacDougall holding a “progressive” mass at St. Ignatius on Sunday nights about 40-45 years ago.
The weekly service featured a band and appealed to younger people, with worshippers allowed to wear blue jeans, he said.
According to the Jesuits, there were multiple credible allegations against MacDougall, Barker, Savoie and Topp, and single credible allegations against Desrochers, Harris and Lepine.
According to the order’s website, the Jesuits define “credibly accused” as an allegation where it appears “more likely than not” an offence occurred.
This includes cases where a Jesuit was accused by credible witnesses, parishioners, civil authorities or clergy, even if no charges or civil actions resulted.
Desrochers, who died in 1982, and Harris, who died in 1991, also worked at St. Boniface College. So did Savoie, who died in 1989.
Barker was once assigned to St. Ignatius. He died in 1977.
Rev. Erik Oland, the Jesuits’ leader in Canada, said the list was produced during a “comprehensive” audit of cases of abuse and boundary violations.
The names were released to promote justice and transparency, he said in a news release.
The Jesuits’ decision to release a list of names could encourage more people to come forward, said Leona Huggins, a former support leader with Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
“A list like this helps an adult, who was a victim as a child, to be able to see in a different light what happened to them, that it’s a systemic network,” she said. “Often times, (officials) knew, but let it happen. For survivors, it has nothing to do with what they did or didn’t do.”
Huggins, who works for a Vancouver law firm that represents survivors of sexual abuse, hopes more orders or dioceses in Canada release names.
Meanwhile, a judge is due to deliver her verdict March 30 in the case of retired Catholic priest Arthur Masse.
The 93-year-old is charged with indecent assault in an alleged sexual assault of a residential school student in the late 1960s.
Masse was part of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Monday, March 13, 2023 8:36 PM CDT: Updates Pungente's age