'There's no room for forgiveness': Pope's sexual abuse letter meaningless to survivor

A Winnipeg man who says he endured sexual assault at the hands of a Catholic priest for years says a letter from the Pope is just lip service and does next to nothing to help victims of abuse.

Joe Barriault says he wants actions, not more lip service

A Winnipeg man who says he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest says a letter written by Pope Francis, vowing to end sexual abuse in the church, doesn't heal years of suffering. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)

A Winnipeg man who says he endured sexual assault at the hands of a Catholic priest for years says a letter from Pope Francis is just lip service and does next to nothing to help victims of abuse.

Joe Barriault was a teenager living in a Catholic-run group home in the late 1980s.

There, he met Father Omer Desjardins, a convicted pedophile who Barriault says sexually assaulted him on a weekly basis.

Convicted pedophile Father Omer Desjardins died in December 2017 on the same day he was to appear in court on more charges for offences dating back to the late 1980s. (Courtesy Oblates of Mary Immaculate)

Desjardins was to appear in court on charges of sexual assault, sexual exploitation and gross indecency on Dec. 4, 2017, but he died that same day.

On Monday, Francis issued a letter to the world's Catholics about clergy sexual abuse. 

In it, he said no effort will be spared to prevent abuse and coverups, and Catholics need to acknowledge the church's history of sexual abuse against children.

But to Barriault, the Roman Catholic Church did more than cover up sexual abuse — they enabled it.

"They've been enabling sexual abuse by not telling the community, moving these priests from parish to parish, and not notifying anybody what the reasoning for that was," he said.

The Pope's letter means nothing to Barriault, he said. What he wants is action.

"They could have done something with every single case as soon as the victim reports it," he said.

No room for forgiveness 

For decades, Barriault said, he carried a lot of shame about what happened to him, and he used drugs to dull the pain.

He suffered depression and had two failed marriages.

"It totally messes you up," he said.

For him, there's no forgiveness for the sexual abuse he says he went through.

"When somebody cuts you off in traffic, that's a good time to forgive somebody. When they're sexually abusing you or sexually abusing your children, there's no room for forgiveness," he said.

Last week, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released the findings of the largest-ever investigation of sex abuse in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church, finding that 301 priests in the U.S. state had sexually abused minors over the past 70 years, and senior church officials covered up the abuse.

Erin Kinsella is the associate director of campus outreach at the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto, the Roman Catholic chaplaincy for the university.

She said the findings released in the report were "heartbreaking," but that she was encouraged by the Pope's letter.

"It's the strongest language we've heard the church use," she said.  

With files from CBC Manitoba's Information Radio