A local priest who was the subject of a recent RCMP investigation that led to no charges was also accused of sexual assault one year ago, the Record has learned.
The Record reported in its April 7 edition that Fort Saskatchewan RCMP investigated Father Ashok Mascarenhas, who served as an associate pastor at Our Lady of the Angels Roman Catholic Parish, due to a complaint.
The March 2016 investigation led to no charges, but the Archdiocese of Edmonton removed Mascarenhas from the ministry because they determined “there was not full adherence to the code of ministerial conduct expected of all ministers of the Gospel”. Mascarenhas, who had been with Our Lady of the Angels since 2013, subsequently left the country to his native India.
Police did not disclose any details on the recent incident, but a source told the Record it involved the priest holding a 15-year-old girl’s hand and whispering in her ear that she was beautiful.
The Record could not confirm where the incident took place but Elk Island Catholic Schools Superintendent Michael Hauptman said it was not on school grounds and he also received information that the complainant was 15. Fort Saskatchewan RCMP could not disclose the reason for the most recent allegation but said it involved a complaint of the priest being “inappropriate” in his position.
Fort Saskatchewan resident Donna Rae Furlong says that in March 2015, Mascarenhas, who had blessed a crucifix in her home and was a family friend, forcefully engaged her in an open-mouth kiss one day when saying goodbye.
“He put his arms around me, kissed me on the cheek, kissed me on the other cheek, kissed me on the lips and put his tongue in my mouth,” she told the Record. “It happened very fast and I pushed him away.”
Furlong was shocked at the incident and was not sure how to react at first. She told her husband and they severed ties with Mascarenhas.
“I was angry, I guess. I didn’t see anyone, I didn’t go to the RCMP; I spoke with some friends who were Catholic to verify that this wasn’t normal,” Furlong said. “After two months of giving it a great deal of thought, I went to the RCMP.”
Fort Saskatchewan RCMP launched an investigation into the incident and it led to no charges. She was told there was not enough evidence to file charges.
Furlong said she decided to report the alleged assault for several reasons.
“I told them that my big reason for going was because I’m not the first one. And I’m not going to be the last one,” Furlong said. “And I said if this happened to someone else, they would have a record of me. And I would be more than happy to testify for someone else.”
Concern about schools
Another reason Furlong was concerned was the fact that Mascarenhas was involved in activities at the local Catholic schools, which her grandchildren attend.
At that time, Furlong said her primary objective was to make Mascarenhas “go away” and that she didn’t necessarily want to see him criminally charged. But she did want assurance that Mascarenhas was not involved in the local schools.
“My understanding from (investigating officer) Const. (Justin) Hodgson was that he spoke to Father Francis (of Our Lady of the Angels Roman Catholic Parish) and the school board was also involved and it was my understanding that he would not be going to the schools anymore,” she said.
It turns out that wasn’t the case. Fort Saskatchewan RCMP did not advise either Elk Island Catholic School Division or the Archdiocese of Edmonton, who Mascarenhas served under.
The reason for this is because while charges and convictions are public information, police investigations are not, explained Const. Sean Morris of the Fort Saskatchewan RCMP.
“Investigations are not public knowledge, because what if (the allegations) are found to be unfounded? If someone is investigated and found not guilty, that would not be something we would want to tarnish the individual’s name with,” Morris said.
There is also the possibility of compromising the investigation if the information is made public.
Furlong did not know Mascarenhas was investigated for a second time until she read it in the Record.
“I was not told, and I thought somewhere along the way I would have been notified. I thought they were rather lenient … I feel as though the RCMP has dropped the ball,” Furlong said.
Morris said suspects are innocent until proven guilty and the RCMP has no responsibility to notify the public of investigation details.
“We only notify the parties involved in the investigation itself, not prior investigations,” Morris said. “Just because I’m investigating a person, say for a break and enter, that doesn’t mean I’m going to call everyone else who has been a victim of this individual to say that he’s being investigated again.”
Furlong believes her complaint should have led to Mascarenhas being scrutinized more closely by the RCMP.
Fort Saskatchewan RCMP Const. Sean Avery, who was not the investigator but was familiar with both files, said the prior complaint did not influence the recent investigation.
“In the end there’s nothing that would have been gained from that earlier complaint that would have helped us do anything different than we did in this matter,” he said.
Hauptman said the school board was only made aware of the most recent complaint after Mascarenhas was removed from the ministry. He said he understands the RCMP’s reasons for keeping the first investigation private.
“In the second incident, I do believe we could have had a conversation sooner,” Hauptman said.
Hauptman said he was not concerned to discover the priest had been involved in the school for about a year after having been investigated for sexual assault. He acknowledged that teachers are investigated “all the time”.
“We do an investigation and find out there’s nothing to substantiate it … am I concerned that teacher’s back in the classroom? No. But if I get another complaint, and another, then you start to see a pattern that you better be addressing,” Hauptman said.
“In this case, there was no pattern that was established at that time that would lead us to being concerned,” he added. Having said that, Hauptman said he would “absolutely” be concerned if Mascarenhas was still ministering after receiving two complaints.
“After a while, you’ve got to start asking why is there a pattern of complaints?” he said.
He emphasized that at no time are priests, volunteers or other members of the community around students without teachers also being present.
Archdiocese was unaware
The Archdiocese of Edmonton was also not informed of the first incident, and a spokesperson said if they were, they would have acted immediately.
“The Archdiocese had no information on that complaint before March of 2016,” said Lorraine Turchansky, director of communications and public relations for the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton.
“And I think I can assure you, had the Archdiocese been aware of that complaint, it is likely Father Mascarenhas would have been suspended from ministry at that time,” she said.
Furlong said she’s “shocked and appalled” to know that neither the Archdiocese or the school board were informed of the first incident and that he continued to serve in local schools for roughly a year before a second complaint came forward.
“I’m shocked with how this has gone. I’m absolutely disgusted with how this has been handled,” she said.
Avery said the RCMP reported the second incident to the Archdiocese and school board because it involved a minor.
“What was important to be looked at in the most recent investigation, is that whoever’s in charge in dealing with those types of people in those positions of power, that they’re made aware of it,” he said.
“In that position they’re in, if they’re abusing their authority, then they definitely shouldn’t be in that position … that’s our biggest concern when we see something like that, we’re not about to allow somebody to stay in that position and possibly have someone further victimized,” he added.
Furlong believes if the first incident had been disclosed to the Archdiocese and the school board, the most recent incident could have been avoided.
“They should have followed up with the church and the school board. No one has done anything to protect this woman or anyone else,” she charged.
Turchansky said the Archdiocese has a comprehensive program of abuse prevention, training and awareness and they are “shocked and disturbed” whenever such allegations are made. She further commented on why the Archdiocese removed Mascarenhas despite no criminal charges being laid.
“As far as we’re concerned, we have to minimize any risk to our parishioners, so when something like this happens, even though there was no criminal conviction, there was enough information here for us to make sure that he was not going to practise priestly ministry in the Archdiocese of Edmonton ever again,” she said. “We know also, from various high-profile cases, that even if you do bring such a complaint to court and it goes to trial, it may not result in a conviction,” she added. “And that doesn’t mean that nothing happened. And we recognize that.”
Avery said he’s glad the complainants came forward but acknowledged it can be difficult to lay a charge without physical evidence.
“Things can change … these matters are both individual, they both did not have grounds to meet a charge, but that doesn’t mean I’m not in two months time going to have someone walk through the door and make (another) allegation.”