Ex-student uneasy about priest’s touch

A third complainant testified Thursday at Father Phil Jacobs’ sexual offence trial, describing how the priest touched him during tutoring sessions on the couch in his living room. 

Jacobs, 63, who was parish priest at St. Joseph the Worker in Saanich from 1997 to 2002, is charged with sexual assault, two counts of sexual interference with a person under 14 and sexual touching. The incidents are alleged to have occurred between September 1996 and June 30, 2001.

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The young man, whose identity is protected by a court order, was involved in the parish and became good friends with the priest. He recalled going to movie nights at the rectory, where Jacobs horsed around and tickled him and other boys.

The witness also testified that he had no concerns when Jacobs became his science tutor in Grade 8 or 9. At first, they sat at the dining room table for the lessons. Then Jacobs suggested it would be more comfortable if they sat on the couch.

They sat side-by-side with no direct physical contact, the witness said.

“Then Phil suggested we switch positions,” he testified.

Jacobs suggested the teen lie down with his legs over Jacobs’ lap, the witness said. His head was on the arm rest, his back and buttocks were on the couch and his knees were over Jacobs’ lap, the witness recalled. Jacobs had a pillow over his lap.

Jacobs’ hand was on the witness’s left knee, the witness testified.

“His hand went up and down, touching my upper body, my groin,” he told the court.

When Jacobs’ hand touched his groin, the back of the priest’s hand touched his testicles, the witness testified. “The hand was moving back and forth. It did not stay there for any period of time,” he said.

“How did you feel?” asked prosecutor Clare Jennings.

“I definitely felt awkward,” he replied. “At the time, I told myself it was absent-minded.”

It happened a few times, he testified.

The witness described another occasion when Jacobs handed him a manila envelope and asked him to bring it downstairs. The youth peeked in the envelope and saw it contained pornography, he testified.

When he came back upstairs, he bumped into Jacobs in the hallway, he recalled.

“He asked me if I looked in the envelope. I lied and said I didn’t, because it felt awkward to talk about,” he said.

The witness said Jacobs looked disappointed and said, “Oh well, it was just some pornography.”

Then Jacobs told him a woman parishioner had caught her husband with the magazines and forced him to bring them to the priest.

Jacobs also asked if he masturbated, the witness said. When he said yes, Jacobs told him it was OK, as long as he treated it with respect.

“It was odd because it’s not what the Catholics teach,” he said. “You’re not supposed to do it at all.”

The witness testified that he felt awkward, weird and nervous during the conversation.

The young man became emotional when he described being approached by a school counsellor after allegations against Jacobs surfaced in 2002. The counsellor asked him if anything had happened to him.

“I denied it at the time,” he said, his voice breaking.

“It was embarrassing. I didn’t want to talk about the pornography and the touching and what it all meant.”

During cross-examination, defence lawyer Chris Considine suggested to the witness that if Jacobs looked disappointed during the pornography incident, it may have been because the teen had just told a lie.

Considine suggested it was only after the witness started talking to friends that he began to think there was more to the touching than being absent-minded.

“I always had the thought it wasn’t right,” the young man testified. “It felt wrong and it was uncomfortable.”

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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