The Story of Bernard Prince | by Jeff Ziegler | Special for Catholic World Report
According to a recently discovered letter, the priest from Wilno, Ontario continued for more than a decade in a prestigious Vatican post after two cardinals, and perhaps five other bishops, knew he had been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
In 1858, 16 families from Prussian-occupied Poland, promised free land in Canada by a shipping company agent, sold their possessions and sailed across the ocean. “I shall never forget their bitter, despairing cries, when they found here on the other side of the ocean how awfully they had been misled,” a Canadian official wrote in an 1860 report. The official found agricultural work for them on the northern shore of Lake Ontario.
At the intersections of country roads, the settlers soon built wooden crosses, where they gathered on Sundays to pray the Rosary and a litany. “It became tradition to make the sign of the cross when one passed a cross at an intersection,” recounts a history of Canada’s first Polish settlement, Wilno. “Gentlemen would remove their hats also.” In 1875, a Polish priest arrived.
Today Wilno is “a very small village of about 200 people scattered over quite a big area, with a big church and a cluster of buildings on a highway around what used to be the railway station,” says Lynne Postill of Wilno Village Publishing. “The buildings are attractive and well kept and are either restaurants or gift stores.”
“In 1966 when I first went there, I think that the villagers were about 95 percent of Polish descent, of whom 100 percent were Roman Catholic and 99 percent attended church,” she recalls. “Today fewer are of Polish descent, and fewer attend church.”
Bernard Prince (an anglicized form of Prynz) was born in Wilno in 1934 and raised in a family of five children. “Bernard was a shy young man from a small village with a one-room schoolhouse,” says Postill. After graduating from an area Catholic high school, Prince entered a Trappist Abbey in nearby Quebec in 1951, choosing the life of the conversi (lay brothers)—who spent most of their time in manual labor—rather than that of the choir monks, who chanted the Divine Office. One resident recalls that Prince was the only young man from Wilno in his lifetime to become a Trappist.
According to a horarium of that era, lay brothers would rise at 2:00 in the morning, pray and read privately for two hours, attend Mass at 4:00, have a small breakfast at 5:30, and work until the 2:00 PM dinner. They would work again from 3:00 until 5:45, join the choir monks for an hour of public spiritual reading and Compline, and retire around 7:00. Like the choir monks, the lay brothers ate no meat or fish and as a rule drank only water.
Six months after his admission to the abbey, Prince received the habit, taking the name Brother Richard. Following his novitiate, he made his temporary profession of vows in 1954, but left in 1957, two weeks before he was to pronounce his solemn vows. “There is no mention in his file of the reasons for his departure,” Brother André of Abbaye Val Notre-Dame told CWR in an e-mail.
At the time, a man had to make an irrevocable choice upon entrance into the abbey: to become either a lay brother or a choir monk, all of whom were priests or destined for the priesthood. Brother André speculates that Prince, as a lay brother, may have left the abbey because he desired to become a priest. “But this is purely a hypothesis, since the register does not make any mention or remark on this subject.”
“At the time he was in the community, [nearly] 60 years ago, the community numbered more than 170 monks, who lived in strict silence,” Brother André continued. “They were seen but hardly known. As for the superiors of that time, who perhaps could have told us something more, they have been dead for a long time.”
After leaving the
abbey, Bernard Prince entered the seminary and was ordained a priest of
his native Diocese of Pembroke (Ontario) in 1963, with the ordination
taking place at his hometown parish. Historians one day may judge the
abuse committed during Prince’s priesthood to be the worst of the
clerical scandals of the late 20th century, not because of the number of
his victims (though he has been convicted of molesting 13), but
because—according to a recently discovered letter written by a
bishop—Prince continued for more than a decade in a prestigious Vatican
post after two cardinals, and perhaps five other bishops, knew he had
been credibly accused of homosexual abuse.
Read the entire special report...