Beckett Personal Injury Office In Downtown London

December 1, 2011

Ex-Principal Accused of Sex Abuse — Alleged Victim Suing School Board and Basilian Fathers

by The Sault Star

A former St. Mary's College student says he has struggled through decades of shame, depression and addiction in the wake of sexual abuse he alleges occurred at the hand of the late Rev. Leo Campbell at the school in the 1980s.

"Unfortunately, I do have memories, almost like snapshots of a movie," said Peter Luci. "I'll be sleeping and it will come almost like a little short film. I'll wake up screaming or in a sweat.

"My relationships have suffered, my self-esteem. I still have nightmares," he said. "Every aspect of my life has been affected.

"I can't put a price on what it's done or what I could have contributed to society instead of what I've cost society."

Luci, now 46, is suing the Congregation of St. Basil and the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board over the allegations, none of which have been proven in court. The total amount of his claim is more than $1.1 million, plus legal costs.

"It's a requirement of the legal system that we put the maximum we are seeking in each category," said Luci's lawyer, Rob Talach. "The reality is that most cases of sexual abuse by clergy resolve in the $100,000-to-$200,000 range, with a few exceptions."

Luci did not tell anyone about the allegations for years. He said he was ashamed.

"Not only in the eyes of my father, but the eyes of anyone who knew, I thought they would think I was damaged goods," Luci said.

He eventually told his wife about the allegations about seven years ago. This led Luci to therapy and a journey of healing.

"You can't keep this inside because it eats you from the inside out. That's what was happening to me," Luci said. "When you speak up and you have your voice heard, that empowers you ... I've come to a place where I have a little bit of peace."

The therapy also led to the disclosure of the allegations to the Congregation of St. Basil, of which Campbell was a member, in January 2008.

The Basilians immediately pulled Campbell from his ministry at a Toronto church, said the religious order's vicar-general David Katulski.

"We then began interviews with Mr. Luci and with Father Campbell to find out what the matters of the case were all about," Katulski said.

"Father Campbell did not remember the plaintiff and he denied ever having abused the plaintiff," states the Basilian's statement of defence.

The Basilians have never received any complaints of sexual assault allegations involving Campbell before or after Luci came forward, Katulski said.

Days after being removed from his Toronto church, Campbell died at the age of 68. Katulski said he had a heart attack.

Despite Campbell's denial of the allegations, the Basilians agreed to pay for Luci's therapy.

"It is still our policy as a community that when someone is in distress over matters such as this that we help them as best we can," Katulski said.

As far as Talach knows, Campbell was never charged criminally.

"We were going to report it to the police ... but he passed away," Luci said.

Luci was a social outcast dealing with family problems when he attended St. Mary's in 1980.

His immediate family was dispersed in Italy and Toronto and he was living in the Sault with his grandmother and two brothers.

"I was vulnerable. I was new to the school," Luci said.

Campbell took Luci, who was about 14, under his wing.

"He was a fun guy. He was a jolly guy. He was someone that you would take an easy liking to," Luci said. "I was brought up Roman Catholic and I had this belief and this ... complete and utter trust that these people would never harm me, that they were there to help me. These are God's people."

He said that trust was violated by Campbell in the springtime in the early '80s when Campbell took him and three other boys on a camping trip.

"We were alone in the woods, four boys and Father Campbell," Luci said.

Luci said the abuse — which started with fondling and escalated to rape — began on that camping trip and continued at the school. It ended when Luci moved to Toronto after spending about a year and a half at St. Mary's, he said.

"He was an older man in a position of authority, trust and power and he took full advantage," Luci said.

The Basilian priests established St. Mary's in 1956. The school was owned and operated by the board, which was called Sault Ste. Marie District Roman Catholic Separate School Board at the time the alleged abuse took place.

Luci's statement of claim states the Basilians and the board were negligent in hiring and supervising Campbell and failed in their duty to protect Luci.

"The Basilians owned him, made him, supervised him ... but he was an employee of the school board while he was at St. Mary's ... They were responsible for his conduct as a teacher," said Talach, of the London, Ont., firm Ledroit Beckett. The firm specializes in litigation and has represented several sexual assault victims in the past.

Jack Stadnyk, director of education at Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board, said he could not comment on the lawsuit at this time.

"It's still before the courts, so it's inappropriate for me to be making comment. I really can't," Stadnyk said.

The board's statement of defence states all of Campbell's references when he was hired reported him to be an exemplary teacher. He had experience teaching at schools in Alberta, Windsor, Ont., Detroit, and Islington, Ont.

"None of these schools reported any incidents, concerns or difficulties associated with Father Campbell," the board's statement of defence reads.

It goes on to state "the school board denies at any material time, it was aware or made aware by the plaintiff or indeed of any other complaint respecting Father Campbell." The board stated it was not aware of the allegations made by Luci.

"The school board denies any involvement in the alleged camping trips and ... (any trips) were not conducted as part of Father Campbell's activities as a teacher," the statement reads.

Luci said he decided to pursue his claim because he wants to institute change.

"I was brought up Roman Catholic. I just felt that they are not taking any responsibility for anything," Luci said. "It was kind of a grandiose idea, but (I came forward) to try to get them to change or take responsibility."

Talach said Catholic entities such as the Basilians are not supporting victims as much as they support the perpetrators.

"You talk the talk and you walk the walk. The Basilians, I think, like other Catholic entities right now, are getting better at talking the talk," said Talach. "Let's look at how they walk the walk."

Talach used the example of Rev. William Hodgson Marshall. In June, the 88-year-old was sentenced to two years in prison after he pleaded guilty to 17 counts of indecent assault. From 1953 on, Marshall assaulted 17 victims in the Sudbury, Toronto and Windsor areas. None of the victims in the criminal case attended St. Mary's in Sault Ste. Marie, where Marshall worked for part of his career.

Marshall was principal at St. Mary's College in Sault Ste. Marie when Campbell started teaching there. Campbell later replaced Marshall as principal in 1985.

"The Basilians have taken the public position that they will not take any steps to defrock Marshall, even though he is convicted of over a dozen counts of (indecent) assault," Talach said. "They are going to accept him back into (a retirement facility) when he finishes his prison sentence."

Rev. Timothy Scott, a spokesperson for the Basilians, told The Windsor Star in August they had no plans to defrock Marshall. Scott also said once Marshall completes his sentence, he will be provided a place to live out his remaining days.

Katulski would not comment when asked about this issue.

"I don't think I'm in a position to answer that question at this time," he said, adding it will be "up to the courts to determine what they would consider a safe place" for Marshall to live after he is released from prison.

Taking steps such as defrocking priests convicted of sexual crimes and stopping financial support are important to victims, Talach said.

"They are not supporting victims like they should be. That infuriates people," he said. "Had Campbell lived, we probably would have seen the same pattern of support."

In addition to spurring change, Luci hopes his story encourages other victims of sexual abuse to stop their silence.

"It's very important that people do come forward and speak up. I know how difficult it is, but I think that the benefits greatly outweigh the difficulty of doing it," he said.

Luci called sexual assault a blight on society.

"It shouldn't happen. Not ever to any children," Luci said. "These are our most precious resources and to me, that there isn't more outrage and there isn't more being done, I don't get it," he said.

"This is a huge problem in society that I just don't think gets its share of resources and respect and it's probably because it deals with a taboo subject," Talach said.

Luci's claim, which was filed in September 2009, is still before the courts. It could be another couple of years before it is resolved, Talach said.

rpunch@saultstar.com

Copyright © 2011 The Sault Star

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