Former priest Phillip Jacobs is standing trial for sexually abusing minors during his time at St. Joseph the Worker church in Saanich between 1996 and 2001.

Former priest Phillip Jacobs is standing trial for sexually abusing minors during his time at St. Joseph the Worker church in Saanich between 1996 and 2001.

Sex assault trial starts for former Saanich priest

Diocese of Victoria aware of allegations of sexual abuse in Ohio

The first time the Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria knew of Father Phillip Jacobs, they were also made aware of past allegations against the priest of “inappropriate behaviour” with a young male.

Michael Lapierre, a former longtime chancellor and vicar general with the diocese, said in the initial letter they received in 1995 requesting consideration for the then Ohio-based Jacobs to come and work for a Greater Victoria parish, the letter-writer mentioned the accusations.

“The letter … indicated there was an issue regarding Father Jacobs, and that had been looked into and dealt with,” Lapierre said Monday during the first day of Jacobs’ B.C. Supreme Court trial.

Jacobs, 62, is charged with sexual assault, two counts of sexual interference of a person under 14 and touching a young person for a sexual purpose. The incidents are alleged to have occurred in Saanich between 1996 and 2001.

Despite the allegations from Ohio, the Victoria diocese hired Jacobs in 1995. In 2002 the diocese said it had conducted an assessment on Jacobs and determined he was “no threat in the future.”

Lapierre told Crown prosecutor Clare Jennings that one of his duties, while Jacobs worked locally, was to monitor the priest in light of the incident in Ohio.

The two met once every few weeks between 1995 and 2002, during which time Jacobs became progressively more engaged with children after being named pastor at St. Joseph the Worker in Saanich in 1997.

Trevena did not inquire further about what monitoring Jacobs entailed. Lapierre said, however, he never had discussions with Jacobs about the Ohio incident, nor did he have any concerns about Jacobs’ behaviour in Saanich.

Kenneth Leason, the second Crown witness who testified Monday, described Jacobs as a “very enthusiastic man. Very charismatic. Very committed to improving the culture of the parish.”

Leason spent 30 years as principal at St. Joseph’s Catholic School. He was also a member of the congregation at St. Joseph the Worker and was a friend of Jacobs’ between 1997 and 2001.

Leason told Justice J. Miriam Gropper that one of the first conversations he had with Jacobs was about his interactions with children. “(He told me) he does not relate well to small children,” Leason said.

When asked about Jacobs’ demeanor when interacting with kids between the ages of five and 10, Leason called it “forced” and “embarrassed.”

“I got the impression that it wasn’t something he enjoyed being a part of,” he said. “He looked uncomfortable.”

Jacobs resigned from St. Joseph the Worker in 2002 after information was made public that he had been relieved of his duties at an Ohio church in the early 1990s after he admitted to inappropriately touching a teenaged boy.

Two years before his resignation, Jacobs approached Leason and confided in him about the Ohio allegations.

“The impression that I got is they were false allegations, and this is something that had been dogging him for a while, and he wanted to put this behind him,” Leason said.

Jacobs confided in Leason and asked for a letter of support – a character reference of sorts, the court learned. That request came when the diocese began receiving letters from an Ohio family regarding Jacobs.

“I think they were letters warning the diocese to be aware that this man is not who he says he is, and he has a past history with young men, and he should be removed from his position immediately,” Leason told the court. “(Jacobs) did say that none of it was true.”

A Saanich police investigation in 2010 uncovered that three young victims alleged Jacobs had committed sex offences while at St. Joseph the Worker.

Jacobs’ Supreme Court trial is scheduled to continue through the rest of the week.