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Former Saanich priest guilty on one count of sexual touching

Father Phil Jacobs has been found guilty of touching a young person for a sexual purpose, but not guilty on three other counts of molestation.

Justice Miriam Gropper handed down her verdict Monday in B.C. Supreme Court after a trial that spanned December and January.

Three young men and former students of St. Joseph the Worker School testified that Jacobs molested or sexually touched them during his tenure as parish priest at the Saanich Catholic school in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The guilty charge stems from a witness who testified that during tutoring sessions at Jacobs’ house on the school grounds, he ended up in a position of laying on the couch with his legs over Jacobs’ lap.

During testimony in December, the witness told the court that Jacobs’ right hand would slide up and down the witness’s left thigh over his pants – “he went from my knee to my groin back and forth ... the back of his hand touched my genitals.”

Gropper agreed with the Crown’s assertion that Jacobs’ touching of the victim’s genitals was “deliberate,” and not accidental brushing.

The judge found Jacobs not guilty on two counts involving the main complainant, charges of sexual assault and sexual touching of a person younger than 14.

During the trial the young man told the court Jacobs fondled him in a room behind the church altar prior to a school mass and during a time when books were moved between the church and the priest’s residence.

Gropper doubted that witness’s claim of being an altar server during school mass more than once, which threw into doubt his assertions of being molested multiple times by Jacobs, as stated during testimony.

The judge also doubted the accuracy of the book moving incident due to issues with the victim’s testimony, and defence evidence from two witnesses that cast doubt on details, timing and circumstances of the incident.

“Naturally, my client is disappointed,” said Jacobs’ defence lawyer Chris Considine, with regard to the ruling of guilty on one charge. He added, however, that Jacobs is pleased the judge found him not guilty on three of the charges.

Jacobs could face a prison sentence of up to 10 years for the guilty count.

The court ordered a psychiatric risk assessment on Jacobs, meaning sentencing likely won’t take place until June. A date for sentencing will be fixed March 6.

Considine said it’s too early to comment on an appeal, as sentencing hasn’t yet taken place, but added: “Obviously we’ll be reviewing all legal aspects of the case in due course.”

Jacobs, now 63, worked part-time from 1996 to 1998 at St. Rose of Lima in Sooke before taking the position of parish priest at St. Joseph the Worker in 1997.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria hired Jacobs despite knowing he had been relieved of his duties at a church in Columbus, Ohio, in the early 1990s after admitting to inappropriately touching a teenage boy in the 1980s.

Jacobs admitted during testimony in Victoria court that he had sexually abused two boys in Ohio, but had attended therapy to control his compulsion to instruct boys on masturbation. He told the court he had a series of inappropriate experiences with teenage boys involving camping trips and masturbation.

In a press release from 2002 regarding hiring Jacobs, the Victoria diocese had deemed “Jacobs was not a pedophile nor an abuser and he was no threat in the future.”

A release Monday from Bishop Richard Gagnon, head the Victoria diocese, reads: “A sexual offence against minors is a crime and like all such harmful actions, goes directly against what the Church believes and teaches. … I remain truly sorry for any harm caused by this situation.”

– with files from Edward Hill

kslavin@saanichnews.com

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