Bob Brehl: Cringeworthy court decision over clerical sex abuse

  • May 3, 2018

Last week’s record financial award to a man abused by a monstrous priest 50 years ago is cringeworthy on many levels.

A Toronto jury of four women and two men in the Ontario Superior Court awarded Rod MacLeod, now 68, $2.6 million in damages, including $500,000 in punitive damages. While in high school in Sudbury, beginning at age 13 and lasting four years, MacLeod was repeatedly sexually molested by William Hodgson (Hod) Marshall, then a priest and teacher. 

The award of punitive damages is significant. Punitive damages are a way of punishing the defendant — in this case the Catholic Church and the Congregation of St. Basil — in a civil lawsuit and are based on the theory that the interesontariots of society and the individual harmed can be met by imposing additional damages.

In the decision, the jurors wrote that the Basilians time and again concealed the priest’s behaviour to avoid “scandal” and knowingly “put children in harm’s way.”

That in itself is cringeworthy, but moving Marshall around and covering up for him, the Basilian leaders have also exposed the Church to even more punitive damages in future court proceedings. Marshall had many other victims, some of whom have already received out-of-court settlements and other victims will likely — and deservedly — follow the path of MacLeod.

Another cringeworthy aspect of the case is that assaults upon children by Marshall were reported to his superiors before his ordination in 1951 and he was still called to serve.

Marshall pleaded guilty to numerous predatory crimes in Sudbury, Windsor and Toronto and was jailed in 2011. Several months before his death in July 2014, he was laicized, or defrocked. 

It is cringeworthy that it took so long to kick him out of the priesthood, although perhaps formal procedures slowed the process. But when the head of the Basilians issued a statement after last week’s verdict, Marshall was still referred to as a priest. And that most definitely is cringeworthy.

“This should never have happened and we are truly sorry,” Fr. David Katulski, the Basilians’ vicar general, was quoted in the Toronto Star. “It is the hope and prayer of the Basilian Fathers that all of Fr. Marshall’s victims may experience healing from the real brokenness you have suffered and that you may experience new life for the future.”

Tapping the words “Basilian sexual abuse” into a Google search was also cringeworthy. Marshall’s name dominates due to the recent court case, but just a little scrolling quickly reveals two or three other Basilian predators. Marshall was not an isolated case. 

Having said that, I’m sure there are many, many terrific Basilians whose hearts have been torn apart by all this. 

I attended a Catholic high school in the 1970s when Marshall was damaging so many boys around my age. My high school was not run by Basilians, but by priests in a different holy order. I cringed thinking if Marshall wasn’t the only Basilian, maybe the Basilians weren’t the only order.

During my five years in an all-boys high school, I never witnessed, nor even heard of, any sort of sexual abuse. Nothing. Zero. Zilch.

Was I lucky or maybe I was incredibly naïve and didn’t notice any signs? I asked several classmates, older guys who attended the school, even a former teacher who wasn’t a priest, and everyone reported the same thing — nobody could recall hearing about anything indecent or illegal.

For that, I am thankful. I was going to publicly tip my hat to the order that taught me and name it, but then I thought why should I associate them, even as a shining example, in any way with this horrible Marshall case. 

My heart goes out to all decent, honourable Basilians, and beyond them to all the thousands and thousands of men of the highest integrity who share in the brotherhood of the priesthood. A close relative is a priest and I know so many more good men in the vocation.

I’ll never forget the angry response one of them had after Raymond Lahey, when bishop of the Diocese of Antigonish in Nova Scotia, was caught in 2009 importing a large cache of child pornography on his laptop. I suppose priests shouldn’t say the kinds of things this friend said to me, but Lahey’s actions reflected on him and others and he was mad as hell.

As for Marshall, he was a monster. But his superiors who let him into the priesthood and then looked the other way time and again cannot escape blame. Marshall was only caught after police acted on complaints from victims. 

That may be the greatest shame for the Basilians.

(Brehl is a writer and author of several books.)

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