The case against a Catholic priest accused of sexual assault and sexual interference has ostensibly ended with a stay of proceedings. The trial for Fr. Anthony Atter, who served in parishes in Lake Lenore, Annaheim and St. Gregor, began yesterday with jury selection. A jury of 8 men and 4 women had been assembled on June 6, in preparation for the trial.

On Monday afternoon, Crown counsel Jennifer Claxton-Viczko directed a stay of proceedings after receiving documents, texts and photographs key to the case from the defense. The nature of the evidence cannot be published as a matter of protection of the identity of the complainant. 

However, Counsel for the Defendant, Brian Pfefferle stated that the nature of the information conclusively fell on the side of Fr. Atter.

“Late on Sunday, we obtained further information from my client and his phone records, as well as other details that were very relevant to the Crown and to this prosecution,” said Pfeffele. “Given the prosecutor we were dealing with, we knew she would be interested in reviewing the matter and discussing it with the complainant. Upon reviewing it, yesterday afternoon late in the day, she directed a stay of proceedings against Fr. Atter, and so for all intents and purposes, the matter is concluded.”

Pfefferle notes that technically the Crown can reinitiate proceedings against an accused person, but the defense attorney instructed Fr. Atter that the charges had functionally been dropped. 

Had the trial gone forward, the expectation was that there would have been extensive communication with people from the three affected communities, given the nature of the accusations. Charges were originally laid following allegations of multiple sexual incidents involving a single individual between September and November, 2020. He initially appeared in Humboldt Provincial Court in March of 2021, and was removed from active service by the Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon in the wake of the charges. 

Pfefferle maintains the decision by the Crown results in a huge sigh of relief for his client, who has consistently maintained his innocence, and for the communities and parishioners.

“Obviously, this is someone who is fondly thought of in the community, and somebody they have huge respect and admiration for,” says Pfefferle. “As I say the matter is concluded and he is very grateful for that.” 

Pfefferle affirmed his confidence in the justice system given that the matter has been given public hearing and had been thoroughly investigated as it proceeded toward trial. The investigation and diligence on both sides led to the pre-trial conclusion, he feels.

“It was certainly our view that there is a ‘smoking gun’ in a case, and that this evidence would be a situation where we felt confident that the case we were going to put forward in defense of Fr. Atter was going to be an insurmountable one for the Crown. The right decision was made at the right time.”

As for Fr. Atter’s future, Pfefferle states that his client intends to remain in Saskatchewan, but that any future affiliation with the Catholic church will be up to the Bishop of the Saskatoon Diocese in consultation with Fr. Atter and others.