A Roman Catholic priest has been found guilty of sexually touching a young person while in a position of trust.
Today, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Miriam Gropper found Father Phil Jacobs deliberately touched a young person between 14 and 18 for a sexual purpose. The offence occurred between Jan. 1, 2000, and June 30, 2001, and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Jacobs, who was parish priest at St. Joseph the Worker in Saanich from 1997 to 2002, was acquitted of three other charges, including sexual assault and two counts of sexually touching a person under 14.
As Gropper delivered her guilty judgement, the young man, who was present in the courtroom, started to cry and and put his head in his hands. He was comforted by Saanich police investigator Sgt. Rob Warren.
During the trial, the young man testified that he lay on the rectory couch with his legs in Jacobs’s lap while being tutored. Jacobs rubbed his leg until he reached a point where his hand was rubbing into the groin and back out again.
“I do not believe Mr. Jacobs when he said the touching of the genital was accidental,” Gropper said.
She accepted the victim’s evidence that the touching was deliberate and for a sexual purpose.
“Mr. Jacobs’s explanation might be reasonable if the touching only occurred once, or if the victim was not clear whether the touching occurred once or during several sessions,” said Gropper. “He was clear that the touching of his left leg by Jacobs went from his knee to his groin and touched his genitals more than once. It was repeated touching over a period. And the groin and testicles are clearly sexual regions of the body.”
Crown prosecutor Clare Jennings asked Gropper to order a presentence report with a psychiatric component. Defence lawyer Chris Considine opposed the request, saying it was unnecessary because the court already had three reports and Jacobs’ extensive testimony.
Gropper ordered new assessements to assist her at sentencing. A date for the hearing will be set March 6. It is expected to take place in about three months.
Outside court, Considine said his client was disappointed with the conviction but “obviously very pleased with findings on the first three counts.”
Asked if Jacobs would remain a Catholic priest, Considine said he did not know,
“He is pursuing, for the last 10 years, an academic environment and he’s not been in an environment as he was at St. Joseph’s,” said the defence lawyer.
Jacobs remains under court orders to live in the Greater Victoria area under strict supervision.He was not allowed to visit his mother’s deathbed nor go to her funeral in the U.S., said Considine.
Allegations of sexual misconduct were made against Jacobs when he was ministering in the Catholic Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. No criminal charges were ever laid.
In August 1995, he was hired by the Diocese of Victoria and appointed to the parish of St. Rose of Lima in Sooke because it would limit his access to children. When Bishop Remi de Roo hired Jacobs, he entrusted supervision and monitoring to a committee of three church officials.
When the Ohio allegations were made public in 2002, Jacobs resigned from St. Joseph’s. He was arrested Aug. 4, 2010, at Victoria Internaitonal Airport.
During the trial, the first complainant testified that Jacobs touched his genitals in a back room of the parish church.The touching began when he was in Grade 5 and progressed over two years, taking place before or after school masses. The complainant testified that Jacobs put his hand down the front of his pants and touched his genitals and then took the boy’s hand and put it down the front of his pants.
Gropper said she was unable to find Jacobs guilty of sexual touching or sexual assault because the evidence of two defence witnesses — which cannot be published because it could identify the victim — raised a reasonable doubt.
The second complainant testified that Jacobs never touched him sexually, but he felt at risk during a conversation with Jacobs about masturbation. He testified that Jacobs told him: “The penis is a muscle. I want you to flex that muscles three times with me.”
The witness also testified that Jacobs threw him on the bed when he was dressed only in his underwear and tickled him. On another occasion, Jacobs handed him pornographic magazines in a manila envelope and asked him to take them downstairs.
Jacobs testified the tickling may have been imprudent and inappropriate but was not for a sexual purpose.
Gropper said she could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt the touching had a sexual purpose. She accepted Jacobs’ evidence that the therapy he took after the Ohio allegations taught him to use self-restraint before he went down the same path.