IQALUIT, Nunavut - A witness at the trial of a former priest accused of child abuse in the North says the one-time cleric used hunger to lure children into sex.
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"When I was a child, sometimes we had nothing to eat," the witness said Wednesday at the trial of Eric Dejaeger. "Mama (her grandmother) would have to leave me there (at the church) so I could eat."
The witness, who was about eight years old in 1980 when the alleged assault took place in Igloolik, Nunavut, broke down in tears and sighed heavily to compose herself before she could continue her testimony.
She said one night, after Dejaeger fed her, he took her into his bedroom and told her to get undressed.
"I was scared of him," said the witness, who recalled that the priest was wearing his long black church robe. "He told me not to tell anybody and then he said he was going to do something to me."
Her made her fondle him, then raped her, she said.
The witness said she was bleeding after the assault and Dejaeger took her to the bathroom to clean herself up. He then placed her on a bedroom couch over which he had carefully spread garbage bags to prevent staining.
The witness said she fled to her home as soon as she could and told her grandmother, a staunch church-goer.
"She beat me up and told me I was lying."
Other testimony suggested Dejaeger's assaults were an open secret, at least among the children.
One man told court that Dejaeger used to sit him on his lap, open his zipper and fondle the boy while other children in the room played and coloured Bible pictures.
Several children, said the woman, told their parents what was going on after Dejaeger forced them to watch him having sex with his dog, but no one believed them.
The woman said she did her best to forget what had happened and never spoke of it — even after Dejaeger assaulted her and her friend a second time, sitting the girls on his naked legs and getting them to stroke his groin.
She never ate at the church again.
"I'd rather go hungry than be eating there."
Other witnesses also spoke of Dejaeger using food to get sex.
One witness described how, when she was about four, Dejaeger used to take her into the kitchen while her parents were discussing church matters with the mission's other priest.
She recalled that while she helped herself to goodies in the cupboards, Dejaeger, breathing heavily in her ear, sat her on his lap, pushed his hand inside her tights and groped her.
"I was a little kid," she said, crouched in the witness box as far as possible from the former priest. "I didn't know what he was doing."
Wednesday's first witness said she quit going to school after Grade 6 because school meant after-class Bible study, which was led by Dejaeger.
It took a long time for her to speak about what had happened, she said, even when other people in the community with similar experiences approached her.
She was eventually forced to deal with her memories when she had children of her own, she said.
"I wanted to talk about Eric because I was hitting my kids," she said. "When I was thinking about it (the abuse), I was getting angrier and angrier."
She testified she has been damaged internally and blamed seven miscarriages that she's suffered on Dejaeger's assault.
In cross-examination, defence lawyer Malcolm Kempt pointed out discrepancies between the woman's testimony and a statement she gave to police. How could she have been assaulted a second time if she never went back to church after the rape? he asked.
Kempt has also asked witnesses if they heard gossip about Dejaeger or heard him discussed on the community radio station. Some have acknowledged hearing stories; some have denied it.
Dejaeger was originally charged in 1995 with three counts of indecent assault and three counts of buggery, a charge no longer in the Criminal Code.
But he left the country and returned to his homeland of Belgium before his court appearance. Belgian officials sent him back in January 2011 when they discovered he was living there illegally.
The Belgian Oblates, the Catholic missionary order that sent Dejaeger to several communities in what is now Nunavut, dismissed him from the priesthood in December 2011. He remains a member of the congregation.
The number of counts against Dejaeger didn't balloon until the late 1990s, when more alleged victims from Igloolik began coming forward. New charges were still being laid after his return to Canada.
At the start of his trial, Dejaeger pleaded guilty to eight of the accusations against him, but still faces 69 charges.
A total of 26 witnesses from Igloolik are expected to take the stand.
Judge Robert Kilpatrick is hearing the case alone without a jury.