Warning: The following story contains graphic testimony of a sexual nature that could be upsetting to some readers.
Phillip Jacobs vigorously denied that he molested male students at St. Joseph the Worker church, but admitted he needs to be mindful of “compulsions” that led to sexually abusing young men in Ohio decades ago, during continued testimony Tuesday in Victoria Supreme Court.
Jacobs, 63, under guidance of defence lawyer Chris Considine, refuted testimony of the three young men who told the court last week that the former parish priest engaged in episodes of molestation and sexual touching at the Saanich church more than a decade ago.
After becoming parish priest of St. Joseph the Worker, Jacobs admitted that “due to my own past history” he opted to limit his interactions with the adjoining Catholic elementary school. “I had the most limited relationship with a school I ever had as a priest because I chose to,” he said.
In testimony last week, one of the three complainants testified that Jacobs molested him – “skin to skin” contact – in a room that joins the anteroom behind the altar, by the priest placing his hand into the pants of the witness. The witness said Jacobs molested him again in the room behind the altar while moving books between buildings on the St. Joseph the Worker grounds.
Jacobs said he has no clear recollection of that witness ever serving as an altar server and denied ever touching or molesting him. “Never,” Jacobs told the judge.
He also agreed that the anteroom was like “Grand Central Station” during school masses, where students and teachers were coming and going. “It was unpredictable but always possible (for staff to enter the back room),” he said.
As for moving books, Jacobs recalled asking two students for help moving hymnal books between the priest’s residence and the church, but the witness was not one of the volunteers. He and the two students did two trips to move the books between the buildings using the dolly and then returned it to the school.
Jacobs said he never moved books with the witness, and didn’t touch or sexually molest him. “Never, my lady,” he told the judge.
Jacobs did admit he crossed the line with one of the complainants named in the charges when he spoke with the student about the act of masturbation. In that case, Jacobs said he slipped back into his compulsion to instruct young men on masturbation.
“Part of me got into the pattern to be an instructor,” Jacobs said. “I slipped back … in this case it lasted seconds and the doorbell or phone rang.
“My mouth was dry. I knew what I was doing was not right, but the interruption gave me a chance to reset things.”
In her cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Clare Jennings observed that one of the church’s extracurricular activities for altar servers was going swimming. She suggested the act of Jacobs changing into swimming trunks with young boys put those boys at risk of molestation.
Jacobs noted that those trips always had other adult chaperones, and that simply being around young people didn’t trigger his compulsions – his compulsion to instruct boys on masturbation was part of a larger “script.”
“I know my pattern, my compulsion. I do not accept that in the presence of kids changing into (swimming) trunks would lead me to do some nefarious act,” he told the court.
Pressed by Jennings, Jacobs said he did sexually abuse two youth in Ohio, but said his therapy at the Institute of Living in Connecticut made him recognize how to break his pattern of “inappropriate actions.”
“In years of therapy we spoke at length about the script, that my future … is about recognizing the script and avoiding anything that might move in the direction of the script.”
“The script had a risk factor that was being alone with young men?” Jennings asked.
“That was a component,” Jacobs said.
“I did not perceive being alone with a young person was a risk,” he told the court. “If I thought that, I would never have entered into parish life, it would be impossible to continue.”
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.
The testimony phase of the trial continues today and is expected to conclude this week.