Upper Ottawa Valley Catholics went to church this morning for the first time since a letter was released showing their diocese suspected one of its priests of sexually abusing boys. That priest was, later, convicted in connection with 13 victims.

Penned by then-bishop Joseph Windle, the Feb. 10, 1993 letter says defrocked priest Bernard Prince should not be given any papal honours, or promoted to bishop, so as not to stir reaction from four or five possible sexual abuse victims of Prince the diocese knew about.

The consequences would be disastrous for both the Canadian church and the Vatican should the information be released, Windle wrote.

That letter was sent to the pronuncio in Ottawa: the Pope's representative in Canada, and was recently released during an ongoing civil suit against the diocese. It continues this week.

"It's very disappointing"

Former Catholic priest Bernard Prince plead guilty in 2008 to sexually molesting 13 young boys over a 20-year period, starting in 1964. The revelation that Church officials knew about this long before the authorities worried parishoners in Pembroke.

"It's been covered up for too long," one parishoner told CTV Ottawa. "It should be brought out and dealt with."

Added another, "It's very disappointing, and I'm sure all Catholics feel the same way."¶

Countered diocese lawyer Charles Gibson, there was no cover-up. Rather, the church was trying to help.

Pope John Paul II considered Prince a friend

"Whenever one deals with documents in isolation and doesn't deal with the facts surrounding the documents being created, you never get a full picture," Gibson said, adding more information will come forward when the Church presents its side on Friday.

"The diocese heard rumours of problems, so the diocese pursuant to their policy at the time -- a protocol -- they sent out a delegate to talk to this person with respect to whether or not he wanted to make a complaint."

Windle sent out letters to several Ontario bishops addressing the situation. But when asked if Pope John Paul II, who called Prince a friend, knew about this, Gibson said that was "a quantum leap in logic."

Another case before the courts

Another priest charged with the sexual assault of children in Ottawa Valley most recently worked in Eganville. However, Monsignor Robert Borne worked at the Pembroke diocese office for some of the same years as Windle. 

Borne faces eight sex-related charges alleged to have happened between 1977 and 1995, involving three victims.

For most of those years he was chancellor of the diocese or secretary to the bishop. His case is before the courts.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's John Hua