11 Dec 2008

Sexual abuse by the Brothers of Holy Cross ruined lives of victims

The Montreal Gazette - December 6, 2008

Ruined Lives of Victims

by Sue Montgomery

Sexual abuse by the Brothers of Holy Cross wasn't confined to inside the brick walls of Collège Notre Dame. All of the brothers' victims The Gazette contacted recently are now grown men, largely destroyed by the trauma they suffered. Broken marriages, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse are the legacies of a life marked by sexual abuse in the formative years. Here are some of their stories:

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One of the most notorious brothers, from many accounts, was a brother who ran a halfway house, Maison Charlemagne, and a home for the disabled, Maison Durjarié, both in Montreal. He was known to abuse handicapped people and kept a young male lover for years at the order's expense. Now 88, the brother this week heatedly denied all allegations.

Yvan Sarrasin was warned, according to sources, about using petty cash to buy groceries and alcohol for the poor and addicted residents in exchange for sex.

One of those was Daniel Charest, who spent six weeks in 1979 at the halfway house run by Sarrasin. The religious brother had the power to refuse those staying there certain privileges, but also threatened to send people like Charest back to prison if they did not co-operate. The sessions, Charest said in a recent interview, lasted about 15 minutes and consisted of the brother touching their genitals, telling them to undress, then masturbating. For Charest, it was always when he needed something - food, money or alcohol, even though he was not supposed to drink as part of his probation.

In exchange, Sarrasin asked that he pull down his pants, let the brother touch him, then masturbate while the brother watched.

"He took advantage of my vulnerability, he used me," Charest said in a recent interview. "Just talking about that now brings up these horrible feelings in me, scars that therapy couldn't erase completely."

After he bought clothes, food or electronic equipment for those at the halfway house, Charest said, Sarrasin told them to keep the receipts, so he could be reimbursed by the order through his petty cash. But they weren't to spend too much, so as not to raise suspicions. Once Charest had left the house, he sporadically saw the brother between 1981 and 1997, when he needed things.

In July 1997, Sarrasin asked for suggestive photos of Charest, who had posed nude for American magazines in order to make some extra cash. The brother said he would use them to masturbate. Charest gave him five photos.

Sarrasin told him he had a night life, during which he cruised Ste. Catherine St. and Lafontaine Park. He would trade food, alcohol, money or clothes with young street boys, many of whom were drug addicts. He had kept a young, HIV-positive male prostitute by the name of Sami for 14 years, since the boy was 14. The brother referred to him as Bambi and the boy called him Papi.

Charest said when he went to the order's lawyer and told him what the brother was up to, the lawyer told him not to go to the authorities because no one would believe his word over the brother's.

Sources say the provincial superior at the time, Robert Réginald, was aware of the Sarrasin's behaviour, but aside from briefly taking away his car and credit cards, nothing was done to stop him. Yesterday, Réginald referred all questions to the present provincial superior, saying he was not aware of anything to do with the brother. And besides, he said, "if anyone took away his car or credit cards, that information is confidential."

In a telephone interview this week, Sarrasin admitted that for many years, he has had a friendship with Sami and with Charest, but insisted he helped them both by buying food, bus passes or paying rent.

Outraged at the allegations of sexual abuse, Sarrasin accused Charest of being a drunk who was trying to blackmail him.

"Did he tell you how much money I spent on him for food? How many times I picked him up off the street because he was loaded? Quelle affaire!"

The brother said he'd heard the rumours about other brothers, that there were "suspicions and maybe misdeeds, but the authorities knew about these things.

"But I'm telling you quite frankly that I feel completely innocent," he said. "If you mention my name in the paper, you will be accusing an innocent man."


Patrick Bannan has been through binges with drugs and alcohol, suicide attempts and two marriages, trying to deal with the abuse he suffered at age 15 at the hands of Brother Julien Hétu, while attending the order's first English institution in Delhi, Ont., as a postulant.

Bannan, who had been raised a Catholic and had several relatives who'd become nuns, said that a week after arriving at the school, Hétu preyed on him.

"He would say things like 'this isn't wrong, this is natural'," said Bannan, his voice shaking with emotion. "I should've done more, I should've fought, but he was the principal of the school."

He said Hétu, who'd spent time in Africa working in the order's mission, told Bannan he preferred "little black boys."

"He drove me to the beach, then he started rubbing me, putting his hands on my privates, kissing me, hugging me and then performing oral sex on me and told me he hoped that I understood and hoped that I wouldn't mention this to anyone," Bannan said.

After eight or nine months, Bannan left, numbing himself to the aftershocks with drugs and alcohol.

Years later, in 1997, Bannan was watching television alone when a talk show came on about sexual abuse. He began to cry, as the pain he had tried to bury for 30 years came pouring out.

He immediately contacted lawyer Joseph Wilby and told him of the abuse he'd suffered. Wilby called the brothers in Montreal, only to be told there was no Julien Hétu. Bannan called himself, pretending to be a friend of Hétu and was put immediately in touch. But he never spoke to him. Instead, the lawyer for the brothers, Emile Perrin, and Wilby, met in Fredericton with Bannan. They cut a deal - $20,000 and Bannan wouldn't say another word about it.

"Réginald Robert, the provincial superior, called Emile Perrin and said I don't want any trouble from New Brunswick," said a source close to the brother's financial affairs.

Hétu, 80, reached at the brothers' large retirement home in Laval this week, said of the abuse and payoff allegations: "This is very sad that this is coming out right before Christmas."

He said the Brothers of Holy Cross had already dealt with his case by paying out "a large sum of money."

"I put it in the hands of the lawyer," he said. "I didn't deny it because the lawyer was looking after it and we didn't want a big court case."

Hétu said he was aware of other abuse cases involving fellow brothers, but said they were all handed over to the order's lawyer and dealt with.

He said all he did to Bannan was "a little bit of touching here and there," but when told how Bannan has been affected by the abuse, Hétu replied, "But what can we do?"


Between 1972 and 1979, Holy Cross Brother Gilles Côté, who taught in aboriginal reserves near Sept Îles, would head to the tiny fishing village of Cloridorme, in the Gaspé, to spend his summer breaks hanging out with his young nephew, Richard.

Richard's mother, Huguette Joncas, was thrilled that her son, who had a tempestuous relationship with his father, was spending his summers with a "saint," a religious man who would have a positive influence over her young son.

But several years later, in 2002, she discovered that while taking Richard camping, on trips to the east coast and teaching him how to paint and read sophisticated books, Gilles Côté was also sodomizing, masturbating and having oral sex with Richard.

It all came out when Richard caught his uncle with his hand down the pants of Richard's own three-year-old son. Overcome with anger, he went to the police and Côté was charged, tried, found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison in 2003. The judge noted at the time that he showed no remorse, and that Côté, who has now completed his sentence and is living in one of the brothers' retirement homes in St. Césaire, still posed a danger to children.

Richard Côté has been off work since his uncle's trial, living in an aunt's house since his wife left with their three children.

"He controlled me completely," he said, reached in the Gaspé, where he lives a broken, bankrupt man, divorced and shunned by most of his relatives. "He kept me from my parents, he controlled who I spoke with. When he took me camping, he slept with a gun next to him."

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Where are the brothers now?

Gilles Côté lives in a brothers' residence called Maison St. Césaire in St. Césaire.

Claude Hurtubise lives in Maison Dujarié, on Jean Brillant St., near the oratory, with 10 other brothers and one priest, including Réginald Robert, a former director of Collège Notre Dame who is now responsible for the brothers' archives.

Living in a retirement and nursing home, the provincial infirmary Le Grand St. Joseph in Chomedey, Laval, are: Ulysse Hamel, Julien Hétu, Olivain Leblanc, and the brother who allegedly abused people in a half-way house and home for the disabled.

Charles Edward Smith, former director of Collège Notre Dame, is the superior of Le Grand Saint Joseph.

Gérard Dionne is the assistant provincial vicar, and lives in the Alfred Bessette house.

History of the order

The Brothers of Holy Cross began in France following the French Revolution. It then spread to North America, where its main role was teaching in schools and ministries. There are over 450 brothers in the U.S., and they founded the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, among other schools. Their numbers in Quebec are dwindling, with fewer than 60 brothers in the province, mainly in Montreal.

The order has missions in India, Bangladesh, Haiti and Brazil. Members take vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience.

Roots in Montreal

Alfred Bessette was born in 1845, and after a difficult life became a novice of the Brothers of Holy Cross in Montreal in 1870. He became known as Brother André, and was the doorman at Collège Notre Dame for 40 years. He had to wash the floors and lights and bring in the firewood.

Soon, the sick began showing up to pray to St. Joseph, and he eventually built the first small chapel in 1904 on the St. Joseph Oratory site; it quickly became too small, and was enlarged in 1908 and 1910.

But it was still too small - a large church was needed, and so in 1917 a crypt was inaugurated that could hold 1,000 people. In 1931, the economic crisis temporarily stopped construction of the church, but it was eventually finished in 1936.

Bessette died in January 1936 at the age of 92.

An English unit of the brothers was formed in 1943. They run parishes in the dioceses of Toronto, St. Catharines, Ont., Charlottetown and Edmonton.

Life of a brother today

The brothers are either appointed to a ministry such as half-way houses, working with people with AIDS or the handicapped - or told to go out and get a job, like teaching. Their salaries are returned to the province and put into a common pot. They receive $100 to $200 petty cash a month and their room, board and medical supplies are all taken care of. Vacations are paid for out of the common pot as well.

A small fraternity of four to 30 brothers live together in a house, and are provided with a cook and cleaning person.

"We were never preoccupied with Hydro or gas bills," said Wilson Kennedy, who was the last brother to enter the order and who left last year. "We were never worried like a regular person would be."

Noteworthy graduates

Former premier Maurice Duplessis, musician Gregory Charles, Hydro-Quebec president Thierry Vandal, anchorman Jean-Luc Mongrain, actor Jacques Lussier.

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1 comment:

  1. At Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks California, a Holy Cross Brother- Brother Brother Roberto, attempted to abuse me in 1965.
    When I reported the crime I was kicked out of school. I was harassed by the brothers at school, who called me a liar and tried to intimidate me into saying it never happened. I was called repeatedly in to the Principal's office for verbal and mental abuse. I could not and would not recant WHAT HAD HAPPENED. Shame on the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross. I am no longer a practicing Catholic.