A one-time friend of Phillip Jacobs testified on Thursday that the former Saanich priest touched him inappropriately a number of times during tutoring sessions.
The witness, now a young man and one of three complainants against Jacobs, appeared in Victoria Supreme Court and described incidents that at first seemed an odd but absent-minded wandering of a priest’s hand, but deemed later in life as inappropriate sexual touching.
Jacobs, 63, is a former parish priest of St. Joseph the Worker church on Burnside Road West, which has an associated Catholic elementary school on the grounds.
Jacobs 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 charges involve three minors under the age of 14, with alleged incidents spanning September 1996 to June 2001, all within Saanich. Jacobs was arrested Aug. 4, 2010 and released on bail.
Crown prosecutor Clare Jennings led the witness through his interactions with Jacobs, who he considered, at the time more than a decade ago, a “cool guy.” With other friends, he helped Jacobs with gardening, attended movie nights at the priest’s house, among other activities.
“I considered him a friend, a father figure of sorts,” the witness told the court.
At a point in time, Jacobs began tutoring the witness one-on-one a few times per week over a few months at the priest’s residence at St. Joseph the Worker.
The witness said for the first few sessions, he and Jacobs studied at the dinner table, but at the priest’s suggestion, they moved to sitting on the couch for better comfort. After a few sessions more, Jacobs suggested the witness could lay back on the couch with his legs on a pillow over Jacobs’ lap, for even more comfort while studying.
The witness testified that Jacobs’ right hand would slide up and down the witness’s left thigh over his pants – “he went from my knee to my groin back and forth … the back of his hand touched my genitals.”
“I definitely felt awkward. I told myself at the time he was being absent-minded,” he said. “It happened over a few occasions, the same each time.
“It was embarrassing. I convinced myself he was absent-minded.”
Jacobs’ lead defence attorney Chris Considine focused on a few inconsistencies in the witness’s statement to Saanich police and noted that the witness had denied anything inappropriate had happened when he spoke with a school counsellor.
“You told (the police) you couldn’t remember if it was one or more sessions, because ‘it was so fricking long ago,’” Considine said, quoting the witness’s police transcript.
“It was a long time ago. I’ve put a lock on the subject since,” the witness responded. “I believe today it happened over a few sessions.”
After the witness moved on from St. Joseph the Worker school, he said he remained friends with Jacobs and would see him periodically. “You didn’t feel a risk from him?” Considine asked. “I didn’t feel any risk. No,” the witness answered.
Considine examined the witness’s enduring friendship with Jacobs, which continued past the point in 2002 when allegations broke that the priest had been relieved of his duties at an Ohio church in the early 1990s after he admitted to inappropriately touching a teenaged boy.
The witness said he felt trapped between two factions in the community, one that supported Jacobs and one that didn’t. The two exchanged emails periodically until 2006. Considine pointed out that in one email, the witness referred to Jacobs as a “best friend” who “worked wonders for the community.” The same email forgave him for “past wrongs” in Ohio.
Considine suggested the witness only accused Jacobs of wrongdoing after reading about the Ohio allegations in the media and after being influenced by fellow students.
“The allegations gave me the time to realize (the touching) was not so innocent and it was more calculated and on purpose,” the witness said. “I always thought it wasn’t right. It felt wrong and uncomfortable. When the allegations came out I pieced together why these things happened.
“Over time I came to my own thoughts and conclusions. I thought he was absent-minded. I never discounted what I felt at the time,” the witness said.
“(You accused him) only after your friends said he was a child molester,” Considine said.
“My friends shared their opinions. I came to my own,” the witness responded.
The trial continues at Victoria Supreme Court next week.