WINDSOR, Ont. -- Back in the 1950s, Catholic priest William Hodgson Marshall earned the nickname Happy Hands because he was always touching his students.
Thursday, those hands, numbed and gnarled by old age, were bound by handcuffs as Marshall was led out of a courtroom to begin serving a two-year prison sentence for molesting children.
Marshall, 88, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of indecent assault for incidents dating from 1952 to 1985. Many of his victims were students at all-male Catholic high schools in Windsor, Sudbury and Toronto where the Basilian taught. Some were the children of married couples he befriended. Most of the victims were in Grade 9, but one was only seven years old. Another, the only female victim, was in her 20s.
He’d call them out of class and have them line up outside his office for groping sessions he called “workouts.” Sometimes he would abuse boys in the presence of another student.
“This is God’s way,” he’d say. “It pleases him and will help you get into the kingdom of heaven.”
Sometimes other teachers or priests would walk in thinking the room was empty. They’d quickly shut the door and leave and became part of what the victims call “the coverup.”
The victims, many of them now grandparents themselves, wiped tears as other victims told of what Marshall did to them and how the abuse haunts them to this day.
Because of the passage of time, Marshall can’t recall the details of his acts, said defence lawyer Andrew Bradie. But Marshall “acknowledges all the terrible crimes he perpetrated on these people.”
Bradie looked distressed as Marshall struggled to grip his cane with handcuffs. Bradie said Marshall has no feeling in his hands and can no longer tie his own shoes.
“He had to be sentenced for the crimes he committed, but the person we sentenced today is not the same person he was when they were committed.”
Victim Ted Holland, who said he was overcome with the urge to slap Marshall across the face in court, disagreed. “He looks the same.... Facing him again, it brought me down to age 14 again.”
Marshall sexually assaulted Holland on three occasions in 1969, while Holland was a student at the prestigious St. Charles College in Sudbury. Holland went to police 14 years ago, but his complaint never led to charges.
Patrick McMahon went to Windsor police in 2009 about abuse he suffered between 1981 and 1985 when Marshall was a regular visitor to his family’s home. McMahon was hailed a “hero” by other victims. His complaint led to charges and spurred 16 other victims, living across the province, to come forward as well.
“Thank God for the Internet,” said Tom Haberer, who lives north of Toronto. He was assaulted by Marshall between 1954 and 1956 at Assumption College in Windsor.
Kenneth Hills, who was abused by Marshall in 1953 at St. Michael’s College in Toronto, said he pities Marshall. “I forgive him,” said Hills, reciting the section of the Lord’s Prayer about forgiving those who trespass against us.
“God is going to judge him now.”
Hills says he has maintained his faith in God but his faith in the Catholic Church is gone.
“I’m very disappointed in the Catholic Church because he’s going to prison as a Catholic priest.” He called it an “embarrassment to all the good priests and good Catholics” everywhere.
Rev. Thomas Scott, spokesman for the Basilian Fathers, said there is little point in defrocking Marshall now, given his advanced age and the fact he will never serve as a practising priest again. That decision, he said, is up to the Vatican.
When Marshall gets out of prison, he will return to the Cardinal Flahiff Basilian Centre in Toronto. That’s where the Basilians placed him when he was plucked from a parish in St. Lucia in 1996 when the allegations of sexual abuse first emerged.
In court, deputy Crown attorney Walter Costa called it “a safe house.”
Scott insisted the Basilian Fathers have co-operated with police and “all requirements for reporting were met.”
Ontario court Justice Lloyd Dean ordered Marshall to report to Toronto police upon his release. He will be on probation for three years. Marshall was placed on the national sex offender registry for 20 years and a sample of his blood will be taken for the national police DNA databank.
“Whatever sentence I impose will not make up for what has happened,” Dean said. Addressing the victims in court, the judge said he hopes the sentence offers “some measure of healing.”
Cathy Cada, a retired elementary school principal who funnelled students to Holy Names high school when Marshall was a principal there, came to court to watch the two-day sentencing hearing. She did the math of what time Marshall would serve per victim. Marshall may be eligible for parole after serving one-third of his sentence — eight months.
“This isn’t right,” Cada said.
“The Basilian community has to do some deep soul-searching,”
Also at the hearing was lawyer Rob Talach, whose London firm represents 10 of Marshall’s victims in civil suits naming the Basilians. “The prosecution of the perpetrator’s over. Now the prosecution of the protectors begins."