A former priest and boy scout leader was sentenced to six years in jail for abusing at least 16 boys while he lived and worked in three native communities in northwest Ontario.

Ralph Knight Munk Rowe, 48, pled guilty to 28 counts of sexual abuse and one count of common assault during a sentencing hearing held in Wunnumin Lake on June 30. The assaults took place in Wunnumin Lake, Big Trout Lake and Osnaburgh. Rowe was described by a Crown attorney as “the most prolific child abuser in Ontario’s northwest.” He becomes eligible for parole in three years.

About 250 residents attended the emotional, eight-hour hearing. Many wept as the Crown attorney went into details of the assaults, which took place between 1975 and 1982. By the time he finished, most had lapsed into stunned silence, said a report in Wawatay News.

Rowe, who was abused himself as a child, was ordained an Anglican minister with the Keewatin Diocese in June 1975. While living and working in Wunnumin, he frequently invited boys to stay with him at the mission house, and took them on overnight camping and canoe trips. The molestations occured during these outings, often while the boys were asleep.

In his statement to the court, Wunnumin Lake Chief Simon Winni-petonga spoke of his son, who committed suicide in 1988. Like other boys his age, he was involved in many activities organized by Rowe. The Chief wondered if the suicides of his son and other boys meant they were among Rowe’s victims. “We believed that he served the Lord with all his heart and we trusted him with our children, who are from the Creator,” he said. “Ralph has not only violated our children’s physical and emotional well-being, but he has also shattered their belief in spirituality.”