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This article was published 31/7/2019 (734 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
To a young boy who was raised Catholic, Ron Leger had the allure of a "rock star," said Bill, one of nine men whose allegations of abuse against the former priest were the focus of a criminal trial, which has been aborted.
"He was a Catholic priest," said Bill, his real name protected by a publication ban. "If they came to your house, it was a big frickin’ deal. Ron was the first one to ever allow us to call him by his first name. I never heard of such a thing. You feel special."
Leger, 81, died Tuesday. He was set to go on trial in the fall, but the case was adjourned in early July after it was disclosed he was in palliative care.
Leger was sentenced to two years in jail in February 2016 after he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing three boys in the 1980s and early 2000s. He was charged again in October 2016 after several other men came forward, saying they had also been sexually assaulted.
In 1980, Leger founded Teen Stop Jeunesse, a teen drop-in centre, also known as Ron’s Drop-In. He became a priest of the Holy Family Parish on Archibald Street in 1995.
Bill, 55, said he contacted police after learning about Leger’s 2016 conviction on Facebook. "It hit me like a hammer to the head," he said. "I just wanted to have my say on the record."
As the trial approached, Bill said he had mixed feelings about testifying against Leger.
"I was not really looking forward to looking him in the eye and asking why," Bill said. "It kind of felt like picking on a defenceless old man. You can’t change the past."
Leger maintained his innocence and "there was mounting evidence to support his position," his lawyer Saul Simmonds wrote in an email. "He was preparing to vigorously defend these charges."
Bill met Leger at junior high school, where he was a teacher. He said he was 13 when the abuse started and 15 when it ended.
Bill argued Leger was "as much a victim" as the boys he abused.
"The Catholic church put these people in a position that is, quite frankly, inhumane," he said. "It’s completely against human nature to avoid human contact, sexual or whatever. It’s got to come to a head, one way or another, and usually it is in the worst possible way."
In a news release acknowledging Leger’s death, the Archdiocese of St. Boniface offered support to his victims.
"The archdiocese recognizes that the passing of Fr. Leger can potentially stir up strong feelings, most especially for his victims and their families and friends," the news release said. "Along with our prayers, the archdiocese will do all it can to assist on a pastoral basis those victims who come forward when they feel ready. We stand in solidarity with all victims of sexual abuse and will continue to do so, always endeavouring to be an instrument of reconciliation and healing for them."
While he will be missed by friends and family, "that doesn’t obviate the damage he brought to his victims," Archbishop Albert Legatt said Wednesday, "and that is the primary thing I carry in my heart."
Church culture is changing, and since Leger’s initial arrest, the archdiocese has introduced changes and safeguards to better protect potential victims of abuse, Legatt said. That includes a protocol for responding to abuse allegations, a code of conduct for priests and requirements that priests have another adult present when with a child or other vulnerable persons.
With the new measures, "people who might have suffered abuse might be more confident and encouraged to come forward and report that," Legatt said.
"At the same time, the church has a long way to go in terms of regaining trust," he said. "Not dealing with (sex abuse allegations) in the past as we should have really undermined that trust."
— with files from Katie May
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