Today a Toronto civil jury delivered a judgment in the total sum of $2,570,181 which included $500,000 in punitive damages against the Basilian Fathers of Toronto (“Basilians”). The Basilians are a Roman Catholic Religious Order of priests who operate on three continents, including all of Canada and the United States, with their headquarters located in Toronto, Ontario.
The case involved the historical sexual abuse of Rod MacLeod, a student at St. Charles College high school in Sudbury from 1963-1967. The abuser was Father Hodgson Marshall, then a Basilian priest who in 2011 was ultimately convicted of abusing 17 young people over his 38 year career. Shockingly, it was disclosed in the trial that the Basilians had in fact received at least three complaints of sexual misconduct by Father Marshall before he was assigned to St. Charles College. The Basilian pattern of response to such complaints appeared to simply be to transfer Marshall. The plaintiff, Mr. Rod MacLeod, now 68 years of age responded to the verdict by saying “I hope this outcome will cause the Basilians to rethink their position on how they treat sex abuse victims; stop listening to their legal experts and listen to their hearts and the teachings of Jesus Christ”.
Punitive damages are a rare and exceptional device only used by the Courts to note reprehensible conduct which offends society’s sense of decency. The goal of punitive damages is to punish, denounce and deter. This represents the largest award of punitive damages against the Catholic Church in Canada and is the first time that a jury of average citizens has judged the Church’s handling of sexual abusive priests. It marks a turning point for the Church in Canada who to date have only been required to pay for the damage they caused victims but have never been fined or punished for their institutional conduct and complicity.
The jury heard evidence that Father Marshall who served in Rochester, Toronto, Windsor, Sudbury, and Sault Ste. Marie was reported a total of SIX times over his career but was allowed to continue in his role as a priest and teacher. The reports of sexual abuse of boys started in 1947, occurred twice in the 1950’s, twice in the 1970’s and again in 1989 around the time of his retirement from teaching. A further report in 1996 was the most disturbing. Father Marshall, then ministering on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, ultimately admitted to his Basilian superiors that he had abused upwards of almost 90 boys over his career. The Basilian response was limited with no effort at outreach to the boys, no involvement of police and no publication of the fact that one of their own had left such a wake of devastation across the land.
The hope is that this outcome will motivate change within the Catholic Church.
The media contact person for this matter is Robert Talach who can be reached at (519) 639-2807 (c) or firstname.lastname@example.org.