Former priest abused children – and a dog!
A defrocked Catholic priest was found guilty yesterday of raping dozens of children and a sled dog in the Canadian Arctic, where he worked as a missionary for decades.
Belgian-born Eric Dejaeger, 67, was convicted of 31 counts of sexual offences against children and one count of bestiality. At the start of the his trial last November in Iqaluit, the capital of Canada’s northernmost Nunavut territory, Dejaeger acknowledged and pleaded guilty to eight out of 80 original charges.
Justice Robert Kilpatrick ruled the evidence had been weakened by the passage of time, and whittled down the number in the indictment.
The defence and prosecution have 30 days to appeal the decision. Otherwise, Dejaeger is expected to be back in court in January for sentencing.
The Iqaluit court clerk told AFP that more than 20 victims from the Inuit hamlet of Igloolik, on the shores of the Northwest Passage, testified at the emotionally charged trial.
Harrowing accounts of Dejaeger’s abuse were detailed in coverage of the trial last year. During the course of the hearing the court heard how Dejaeger used his position as a missionary to lure and trap children them into sex, threatening them with hellfire and separation from their families if they exposed him.
From 1978 to 1982, Dejaeger worked alongside other local priests in Igloolik in what was then the Northwest Territories, and eventually took on Canadian citizenship.
In 1990, he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for sexually assaulting eight children in Baker Lake, Nunavut.
Following his release from prison and facing fresh allegations, he fled to his birth country of Belgium, where he was arrested in 2011 and subsequently returned to Canada.
He has been in custody ever since.
One witness, who was about eight years old in 1980 when Dejaeger fed her, said he took her into his bedroom and told her to get undressed.
I was scared of him. He told me not to tell anybody and then he said he was going to do something to me.
Her made her fondle him, then raped her, she said.
The witness said she fled to her home as soon as she could and told her grandmother, a staunch church-goer.
She beat me up and told me I was lying.
Other testimony suggested Dejaeger’s assaults were an open secret, at least among the children.
One man told court that Dejaeger used to sit him on his lap, open his zipper and fondle the boy while other children in the room played and coloured Bible pictures.
Several children told their parents what was going on after Dejaeger forced them to watch him having sex with his dog, but no one believed them.
The Belgian Oblates, the Catholic missionary order that sent Dejaeger to several communities in what is now Nunavut, dismissed him from the priesthood in December 2011. But he remains a member of the congregation.
The number of counts against Dejaeger didn’t balloon until the late 1990s, when more alleged victims from Igloolik began coming forward. New charges were still being laid after his return to Canada.