Mar 27/98: Church leader backs O'Connor


Victoria Catholic Bishop Remi De Roo says the disgraced Williams Lake bishop remains innocent of sex crimes, and disputes the need for a third trial

Vancouver Sun
March 27, 1998
Douglas Todd - Sun Religion Reporter

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

One of Canada's senior Catholic leaders says he's never been convinced that Bishop Hubert O'Connor has ever been guilty of a crime. Victoria Bishop Remi De Roo, well-known for his outspoken views on social and economic justice, said he has stood by O'Connor ever since the former principal was charged with sex crimes against six students in 1991.

O'Connor has never expressed remorse to native people -- even though he has admitted he broke his celibacy vow and had sex with two native students when he was principal of a residential school near Williams Lake in the 1960s.

"I personally cannot see how what he had done was, strictly speaking, a criminal offence," De Roo said Thursday.

His response is in contrast to Vancouver Archbishop Adam Exner, who two years ago accepted the court's conviction of O'Connor and formally apologized for O'Connor's actions.

De Roo, calling O'Connor by his nickname, "Hub," said O'Connor has "admitted his weakness from the moral point of view. But going from there to wanting to lay a sentence on him, I think, is a mistake."

The B.C. Court of Appeal on Tuesday overturned two 1996 sex convictions against O'Connor. The three judges acquitted him of one count of indecent assault of a teenage girl and ordered a new trial (which would be O'Connor's third) on one count of rape.

Although De Roo said he's not an expert on the legal machinations of O'Connor's case, he believes that the appeal court's decision shows that O'Connor has not yet had a fair trial and must be considered innocent until proven guilty.

O'Connor, who admitted to fathering a baby with one of the former students, is believed to be the highest Catholic official in the world ever convicted of a sex crime. His case has drawn international negative attention to the Catholic church and has been a focal point for natives claiming residential schools were a form of cultural genocide.

De Roo says O'Connor is a broken man emotionally, physically and financially -- "although he seems more at peace now than he was initially when the full impact [of the charges] hit him."

However, University of B.C. professor Jean Barman, who has an essay on O'Connor in the current issue of B.C. Studies journal, is disturbed by an earlier parole hearing report that said O'Connor holds his native "victims in contempt." Noting that O'Connor has told judges he was "seduced" by the then-teenage native women, Barman says O'Connor's attitude perpetuates an old stereotype that native females are "free game" for sex.

De Roo, however, suggests another motive for O'Connor's anger toward the complainants. "He's been overwhelmed by the bitterness and the slander, particularly the misrepresentation of what actually happened. It's really saddened him deeply."

The former bishop of Prince George lives in an Oblate residence near Duncan, on Vancouver Island, where De Roo says he reads, prays and does household repairs for neighbours and friends.

Barman charges that O'Connor's ability to drum up the money to launch a costly legal defence of the charges against him reveals the stark imbalance of power that has long existed between the once-revered bishop and his victims.

But De Roo, 73 -- who speaks eight languages, has five honorary university degrees and has frequently supported native land claim causes -- makes no apologies for O'Connor's Catholic supporters putting up the money to hire top lawyer Chris Considine to defend him for seven years, including taking the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"If you and I believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty, don't we have a responsibility to help them to maintain their innocence if they are convinced that is so?," De Roo said. "It would be rather sad if that is turned against us as favoritism."

While De Roo readily admits the churches colluded with the federal government to treat natives unequally through the residential-school system, he believes widespread sex-abuse investigations have led to the public maligning everyone who ever worked in the institutions.

"Having given their lives to the cause of education, and worked under extremely difficult circumstances, they are now told they have betrayed [Indians]. How would you feel if you had taught all your life and then your students turned against you, and said you destroyed them?"

De Roo, who has been Victoria bishop for more than 35 years, says he's taken a lot of criticism for standing up for O'Connor. "But that's part of life. We don't live by criticism. We live by trying to do the truth, and do what is right."

Letters to the Vancouver Sun:


"Give us the names of the abusers in your diocese that you had transferred to hide their shame"
- Bill Wilson, Kwagiulth Nation to Bishop Remi de Roo

Letters of Outrage and Condemnation to:
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Most Reverend Remi De Roo, STD, D.D.
Bishop of Victoria
Diocesan Pastoral Centre
#1 - 4044 Nelthorpe St.
Victoria, BC V8X 2A1
Phone: (250) 479-1331
Fax: (250) 479-5423

Aborgiginal Rights Coalition (ARC), which is Church sponsored

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