ST. CATHARINES, ON, August 24, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A Niagara Falls man has been sent to jail for exploiting a Catholic priest’s fear of being falsely accused of being a sexual predator. Robert Sammut received an 18-month sentence yesterday in St. Catharines Court in Ontario for reportedly extorting $90,000 from the priest over a two-year period.
The court was told that in the fall of 2009, Sammut began regularly approaching the priest for cash handouts to help support his children and to pay personal debts. Sammut began to threaten the priest that he would “hurt him if he didn’t pay up,” according to St. Catharine’s The Standard.
By January 2010, Sammut told the priest that he would accuse the priest of sexually abusing him if he didn’t give him money.
“In order to compel the priest’s generosity, he threatened the priest to come forward with false charges,” Judge Joseph Nadel said.
Out of fear for what public sexual abuse allegations would do to his reputation, the priest gave Sammut dozens of payments of $150 to $200 over several months, the court heard.
According to The Standard, the priest finally reported Sammut after he had emptied his bank account, maxed out his credit cards, and borrowed as much as he could.
Under conditions of anonymity, one active priest in good standing located in the province of Alberta, who has in the past expressed concerns with the policies relating to abuse in his own diocese, explained to LSN that he could relate to the fears of the extorted priest. “When you are accused, it’s going to change your life right away, whether the accusations are true or false,” said the priest.
“I feel that in some ways, a priest is not really protected from false sexual abuse accusations. The policies in place are insufficient. There is no guaranteed support for priests.”
One archdiocese in the U.S., the Archdiocese of Denver drew attention to the fact that there are other and usually ignored victims of the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church – namely innocent priests who have been defamed by false accusations – in a statement released in July, 2011.
In that statement, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput emphasized that while his archdiocese works to guarantee justice for victims and protect others from becoming victims of sexual abuse, they also have a duty “to defend the reputation of the many, many innocent good men and women who work in the archdiocese and give so much to others.”
Despite the good reputation of the priest in St. Catharine’s, the Assistant Crown attorney Graeme Leach said that the priest has been traumatized by the extortion.
“There will be an ongoing victimization of the (priest),” Leach said, observing that the priest does not have the money to pay back the money he borrowed from others to pay Sammut.