A retired Roman Catholic priest convicted of abusing dozens of girls throughout southwestern Ontario has died, the Crown attorney who prosecuted him told CBC News.
Charles Sylvestre, of Belle River, Ont., was just three months into a three-year prison term in Kingston when he died in the prison hospital late Monday, Paul Bailey said Tuesday.
The cause of death was not immediately known, but he had been suffering from dementia.
Sylvestre, 84, pleaded guilty in August to indecently assaulting 47 girls between 1954 and 1986. His victims were between seven and 15 at the time of the abuse.
Support workers to help victims cope with news
Bailey said he is putting together a team of support workers to help victims cope with the news of the priest's death.
"The problem is that although it's not rational to think this way, some of the survivors may feel responsible," he told CBC News.
"Those real feelings need to be dealt with and supported, and we need to discuss the entire episode so they don't feel responsible."
Officials with the Roman Catholic Diocese of London, Ont., said in a written statement that Bishop Ronald Fabbro has directed all parishes to offer special prayers for Sylvestre's victims and their families. He has also asked for prayers for Sylvestre's family.
"We continue to feel grief and shock at the revelations of his actions, and we say again that we deplore all instances of sexual abuse and sexual impropriety, especially by clergy or anyone in the Church's employ, towards minors," reads the statement.
The incidents took place in parishes throughout southwestern Ontario, including Windsor, London, Sarnia, Chatham-Kent and Pain Court.
Charges against Sylvestre included indecent assault, sexual assault and sexual intercourse with a female under 14.
After Sylvestre's guilty plea, the head of the Roman Catholic diocese of London issued a formal apology to Sylvestre's victims for failing to protect them.
Reports dating back to 1962 found in filing cabinet
Last month, police reports relating to sexual abuse by Sylvestre dating back to 1962 were found in a London diocese filing cabinet, even though it had been believed reports of his abuse were first made in 1989.
In the documents were transcribed interviews with three girls who told police how Sylvestre had touched them and exposed himself.
The diocese said the reports were not in Sylvestre's personnel file, but rather in the back of a cabinet full of accounting files.
Bishop Fabbro said last month that his counterpart in 1962 would have been told about the police reports. He said he went public with the information about the documents because he is committed to being transparent and to helping victims heal.