A former Saanich priest will serve a five-month conditional sentence, including two months house arrest and community service, and subsequently two years probation after being found guilty of touching a young person for a sexual purpose.
Phil Jacobs, 63, on Wednesday walked out of the Victoria Law Courts to begin his sentence, after B.C. Supreme Court Justice J. Miriam Gropper determined he could avoid jail time, as he is deemed a low to moderate risk to reoffend.
Gropper said she put a particular emphasis on “deterrence and denunciation” in deciding between incarceration and a conditional sentence.
“In terms of the present conditions, his freedom is limited significantly over the next five months by the court, and then for a further two years after that,” defence lawyer Chris Considine said after sentencing.
Among Jacobs’ conditions are two months house arrest, 50 hours of community service and the requirement to undergo sex offender counselling. He will also be put on the National Sex Offender Registry, and submit his DNA to the National DNA Data Bank.
Until the completion of his probation, Jacobs is also not allowed to be in the presence of a person under the age of 16 unless another adult is present.
Considine explained the conditions on Jacobs’ conditional sentence are lessened after two months, essentially going from not being allowed to leave his property except for very restrictive purposes, to having an 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for the last three months.
“I’m baffled that the courts don’t understand the nature of this crime. I get the judge’s hands were tied and this is a very minimal sentence, but it really shows a lack of understanding of the nature of this crime,” said Leona Huggins, with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). She said the young victim of Jacobs’ crime is now serving a “life sentence” stemming from being abused by Jacobs, a person who was in a position of trust.
The guilty charge stems from when the witness, a high school-aged boy, was undergoing tutoring sessions as Jacobs’ house on the grounds of St. Joseph the Worker in Saanich in the early 2000s.
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.”
Gropper agreed with the Crown’s assertion that Jacobs’ touching of the victim’s genitals was “deliberate,” and not accidental brushing, as Jacobs suggested.
At his sentencing hearing in June, Jacobs apologized to his victim and his family. He said he believes he did not commit a sexual offence, but apologized for having put the victim in the compromising situation.
“I regret that I was not responsible to see how problematic that situation was,” he said.
Considine said on Wednesday that Jacobs said he regrets having put himself and the victim in that position.
“He just doesn’t consider himself a sex offender, in the sense that there was no sexual gratification or anything of that nature that we normally find is the normal situation in these cases,” Considine added.
Jacobs worked part-time from 1996 to 1998 at St. Rose of Lima in Sooke before taking the position of parish priest at St. Joseph the Worker in Saanich in 1997.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria hired Jacobs despite knowing he had been relieved of his duties at a church in Columbus, Ohio, in the early 1990s after admitting to inappropriately touching a teenage boy in the 1980s.
Jacobs admitted during testimony in Victoria court that he had sexually abused two boys in Ohio, but had attended therapy to control his compulsion to instruct boys on masturbation. He told the court he had a series of inappropriate experiences with teenage boys involving camping trips and masturbation.
The Victoria diocese intentionally initially hired Jacobs to a post where he would not be interacting with children, but over time Jacobs became progressively more engaged with children.
Huggins said the Victoria diocese needs to be held accountable for allowing such a situation to take place.
“I believe there should be some accountability for the people who were supposedly about to watch (Jacobs). They knew Jacobs was an offender from Ohio, and still they put him into a position of working with adolescent boys,” she said. “There needs to be some accountability in our legal system. And from a moral stance, the church should be saying, ‘We don’t want these men working with our children.'”
In a press release from 2002 regarding hiring Jacobs, the Victoria diocese had deemed “Jacobs was not a pedophile nor an abuser and he was no threat in the future.”
– with files from Edward Hill