A Quebec priest has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing minors at a Catholic boarding school more than three decades ago.
Jean Pilon, 79, was then sentenced to three and a half years in prison for his crimes.
Before that, he heard victim impact statements from nine of his victims, including Brian Ford.
Ford has been waiting a long time to see Pilon brought to justice.
“Today there have been a lot of emotions. It feels good,” Ford told Global News in an interview.
Now a police officer, the 52-year-old attended Collège Bourget in Rigaud as a teen. That’s where he was sexually abused by Pilon, who was a teacher and supervisor there in the ’80s.
On Tuesday at the Valleyfield Courthouse, Pilon pleaded guilty to 12 counts of gross indecency. Additional sexual assault charges were dropped in exchange for the guilty plea.
Ford was one of nine people who delivered devastating victim impact statements to the court before Pilon was sentenced.
“He left to jail with handcuffs on, so it’s part of our healing,” he said.
Some of the victims broke down at the stand as they spoke about how the abuse shattered their lives. Addiction problems, depression, anxiety and broken relationships were just some of the side effects victims attributed to Pilon’s abuse.
Some said the weight of lasting feelings of shame and anger became too heavy for some to go to university or pursue their dreams. A few ended up in jail.
“We still have a lot of work to do on ourselves and we try to have a nice life and be nice to other people,” said Ford.
Victims said Pilon would take advantage of their vulnerability; that when in trouble or distraught, he would offer to comfort them. He would start with a massage, which would lead to sexual touching.
The admission of criminal guilt was among the factors that lead to Pilon getting a lighter sentence. Both the Crown and the defence recommended the three-and-a-half-year sentence to judge Bertrand St-Arnaud.
“Sometimes a bad settlement is better than the best trial,” said Justin Wee, a lawyer for Ford. “If you go to trial, a victim has to testify, be cross-examined, and that’s not the best.”
Ford is just one of 350 alleged victims being represented by Wee in a class-action lawsuit against the Clerics of Saint-Viateur, the Catholic organization Pilon was part of. Wee said 50 of the people registered in the class action have made accusations toward Pilon.
“We know that after the ’80s, Pilon went to Haiti. How many other victims in Haiti are there?” he wonders.
Pilon offered an apology to the victims before leaving for prison. Ford said time will tell if the apology was sincere.
In a statement, the Clerics of Saint-Viateur expressed hope that the sentence would alleviate the suffering of victims.
“This is the conclusion of a long process in which the Congregation of the Clerics of Saint Viateur has collaborated with the greatest openness and transparency,” said Nestor Fils-Aimé. “The Congregation upholds truth and justice and expresses its disapproval of any act that attacks human integrity and dignity.”
Four other elderly priests from the Clerics of Saint-Viateur were arrested last year and face charges related to sex crimes against minors.
The lawyer hopes the sentence pushes others who’ve been suffering in silence to come forward.
“Twenty years ago, these arrests would never happen, and it happened today because it’s possible the society’s ready to hear, and probably now all the victims are ready to speak,” Wee said.
Ford hopes seeing Pilon go to jail will give other victims faith that the justice system will listen to them and bring abusers to justice.
Wee wants to see a public inquiry into sexual abuse by the church in Quebec.