Cap-Pelé council may push ahead with removing the name of a priest accused of sexually assaulting children from the local arena as early as Monday night.
The southeastern New Brunswick village was scheduled to hold a plebiscite May 14 on changing the name of Aréna Père-Camille-Léger to Aréna de Cap-Pelé. But Deputy Mayor Hector Doiron told CBC News that Archbishop André Richard's apology for the actions of the former priest have "changed the dimensions" of the controversy and council has scheduled a special meeting on the issue.
On Sunday, Richard told parishioners he believes the stories of abuse that emerged in recent days and apologized on behalf of the church.
'It's not a legally binding declaration, but it is a public declaration by the Catholic church here. So the municipality will certainly take action to remedy the situation with the name on the arena.' — Deputy Mayor Hector Doiron
Richard's acknowledgement may allow the community to move forward with renaming the arena, Doiron said.
"By Monsignor Richard making a public statement to that effect, that he felt that Father Léger — with having so many come forward and taking responsibility for his actions — now this situation is such that this happened," he said.
"Mind you it's not a legally binding declaration, but it is a public declaration by the Catholic church here. So the municipality will certainly take action to remedy the situation with the name on the arena."
Council was scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. AT. If the motion to change the name passes, it will take effect immediately, Doiron said.
Léger's picture has already been removed from the arena that has carried his name for 25 years.
People in the fishing village say they're pleased with the archbishop's apology.
Several people came forward last week to talk for the first time about the abuse they experienced by Léger, who died 22 years ago and was never charged.
Richard addressed the controversy while celebrating mass before about 200 people on Sunday. Many people thanked the archbishop for coming to the community and talking about the issue.
Richard thanked the people for breaking their silence on the issue of abuse. "We have no idea what damage, what harm he may have done to the lives of people," Richard said, adding the church will do what it can to help Léger's victims.
He said Léger was well respected in Cap-Pelé where he served from 1957 to1980. Richard said Léger helped incorporate the town, set up a volunteer fire department and build the local arena, but added that community involvement made it much more difficult for teenage boys who had been sexually assaulted by the priest to speak out.
"That's part of the complexity of the whole situation — that he was well known and admired, on the other hand this very shady side obviously of his life," he said.
‘It was long overdue’
Antoine Vautour said the Richard did the right thing by asking for forgiveness.
"The archbishop's comments were perfect — we appreciate his comments," Vautour said.
Ulysse Boudreau, who lived in the coastal community when Léger was a priest, also said the region’s archbishop took the appropriate action.
"It's only right for the people who got hurt. I was young back then and I remember what he was doing with the kids and it was not right," Boudreau said.
Patricia Niles said she also knows people who were abused by Léger and the archbishop's apology is just one part of the healing process.
"I think it was long overdue for those that have been really hurt, it will be a long process," Niles said.