New Brunswick

Former priest admits to playful 'pranks' but not to sexual abuse

Closing arguments in the trial of former Moncton priest Yvon Arsenault will be heard in Moncton's Court of Queen's Bench on Friday.

Yvon Arsenault continues to testify in own defence at Moncton trial

Yvon Arsenault, in a picture from February 2017, before he was incarcerated for molesting nine boys between 1971 and 1980, while serving as a Catholic priest. (CBC)

Closing arguments in the indecent assault trial of former Moncton priest Yvon Arsenault will be heard in Court of Queen's Bench on Friday. 

Arsenault continued to deny the allegations against him as the trial continued in Moncton on Thursday, with Crown prosecutor Sylvie Godin-Blanchard cross-examining the 75-year-old convicted molester.

He is accused of indecent assault and gross indecency for incidents that allegedly happened between 1970 and 1972 in Shediac when the alleged victim was 10 to 12 years old. ​

Arsenault has already been convicted of sex crimes and is serving time. In 2017, he was sentenced to four years in prison after he admitted to touching nine young boys in the 1970s. 

He told the court he would admit to the latest allegations as well, but they aren't true.

Testifying in his own defence, he said he spent little time with children when he worked as a young assistant priest at the Saint-Joseph Parish in Shediac and worked mostly with a committee and some teenagers. 

Defensive response

But when Godin-Blanchard questioned him about foosball and how things were organized at the youth club, Arsenault became visibly defensive. 

Asked about wrapping a child around his arms, the former priest said, "I know I've done that with a teenager. With a child? It's possible."

But Arsenault said he did it because he was playful.

"It ends there. These are acts that are pranks. It's not assault."

Arsenault testified being playful meant he talked and paid attention to all the children because many felt most priests and adults didn't do that. 

Godin-Blanchard also asked about an incident in a bathroom, when, according to the victim, Arsenault put his penis in his mouth before the victim pushed him and ran away. Arsenault denied this happened.

"All I can say is this is not true. This never happened. I never abused him.

"I'm absolutely certain I never did this"

"If I had done this, I would admit it."

Doesn't recall all children

Asked if he remembered all the children he worked with, including the victim, Arsenault said it was possible, and the victim was one among many. During his direct testimony the day before, Arsenault said he didn't remember the victim.

When asked if he was loved and respected as a young priest in the parish, Arsenault said he was. 

"Yes. Oh yes. Very much. It's probably the parish were I was the most loved and respected.

"I was young. I was innocent. I worked very hard."

Defence lawyer Alison Menard will present closing arguments in the case of Yvon Arsenault on Friday. (CBC)

Arsenault denied he was attracted to young boys and answered no to each age the Crown prosecutor listed as she asked the question. 

"No, I was not attracted sexually. No. Categorical no."

Arsenault said the victim must have made ​things up about him after reading newspaper accounts of his assaults on other young men. 

Difficulties in school

Anita Pellerin, a retired teacher who taught Grade 8 at the time of the alleged assaults, testified she knew both the victim and Arsenault. She said the victim, who was not in court, had difficulties in school but was always smiling. 

"He was very polite in class. 

"His performance was a bit more poor."

She told the court she never saw or heard of anything inappropriate between the two of them.

"I would have brought it to the authorities — those that were in charge of that boys club — in order to amend or correct what was happening."

But she admitted she had no idea whether the abuse alleged in this case took place.

Devastated by crimes

After testifying, Pellerin told CBC News she was devastated after Arsenault pleaded guilty to previous sex crimes on minors.

"I had a great respect for that priest, and it was very sad that something like that had happened. That such a weakness — I know that it is a crime to do what was done, but life is like that … we have to forgive and forget."

After hearing closing arguments Friday, the judge said he will take time to issue a written decision.

With files from Gabrielle Fahmy