The sexual abuse of students decades ago at St. Charles College by a Roman Catholic priest is "the white elephant in the room in Sudbury" and must be aired publicly, says the lawyer representing victims of the disgraced clergyman.
Father William Hodgson (Hod) Marshall, 89, is serving two years in Kingston Penitentiary after pleading guilty in June 2011 to 17 charges of indecent assault, six involving Sudbury men.
Some of those men are seeking justice from authorities they say knew about the abuse they were subjected to and did nothing to stop it.
Rob Talach, of Ledroit Beckett Litigation Lawyers in London, announced Wednesday that four civil lawsuits have been launched against Marshall, the Basilian order to which he belongs and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie.
The men have also named the Sudbury Catholic District School Board and Bishop Ronald Peter Fabbro in their suits, in which they are seeking damages of more than a $1 million each.
Talach and two men whom Marshall admitted to indecently assaulting addressed reporters Wednesday at a news conference at the Radisson Hotel.
The men, and at least one other plaintiff in the audience, were there for more than "just the announcement of more litigation," said Talach.
They are looking for "pieces of the puzzle of Father Hod Marshall," said Talach.
The priest may have been convicted criminally, but "the totality" of what went on at the Catholic boys' school in the 1960s and 1970s has never been revealed.
Marshall served as priest and educator for 21 years in Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, so Talach speculated hundreds of students, and their parents, "may have been told by their sons of Marshall's abuse."
Marshall taught at St. Charles from 1961 to 1970, during which time at least two parents complained to school and Basilian officials their sons were abused.
At the time, St. Charles was an all-boys school, although it is co-ed today.
Marshall was transferred from St. Charles in 1970, but returned three years later as principal, serving another five years at the school.
In 1978, he was transferred to St. Mary's College in Sault Ste. Marie where he was principal until 1985. Talach said no victims are known to have stepped forward in the Sault.
At least 13 civil lawsuits have been filed against Marshall.
"The criminal justice system only cares what Marshall did," said Talach. It is up to the civil justice system "to pursue the truth."
Denis Beland was 12 when he entered Grade 9 at St. Charles College. He was four-foot-10 and weighed 90 pounds, and an easy mark for abuse.
He was expelled from St. Charles midway through Grade 10 after his mother complained to school board officials, he said.
Beland, now 55, said he has run into former students and teachers from St. Charles over the decades who had to have known what was going on.
"Why didn't you do something about it at the time?" he asked.
Beland was classmates with Ted Holland, 56, who received a small settlement in 1999 from the Basilian order for being abused by Marshall.
Talach appealed to Sudburians who knew of the abuse to come forward to bolster his clients' case of negligence against church and school authorities.
"If you call yourself Catholic and you call yourself an educator, we need to hear from you. There's still a chance for these people to come over to the side of good," Talach said.
That plea is similar to ones police ser vices issue when seeking information regarding criminal charges.
"There is a huge hole in our justice system," said Talach. "The criminal justice system is primarily concerned with the perpetrator, not the institutional complicity, because you can't put" a church or a school in jail.
Beland urged other victims of Marshall's to come forward "just for yourself ... to get the piano off your back. Trust me, it's a piano on your back when you're living with this."
Talach insists Marshall's misconduct could not have occurred without people turning a blind eye to it out of deference to school and church.
That abuse was "an illness, a disease, an infliction that struck this city," said Talach.
Holland said he has been vilified since he went public with complaints about Marshall in the 1990s.
He reported the abuse decades later to the separate school board and two of its superintendents, he said.
"They took the information and didn't do anything."
People have accused him of besmirching the name of the boys' school, said Holland, but Talach said "continued silence does not assist St. Charles' reputation."
Graduates need to step forward, "not ... stick their heads in the sand and pretend it didn't happen."
People who know about Marshall's actions should come forward "regardless of their (stature) in life now, how senior they are in their profession or in their occupation," said the lawyer.
"It's time they contribute toward justice by giving us the information they possess.'
But it's ugly subject matter and "people just don't want to deal with it," said Talach.
"But the next time someone passes a homeless person on the streets of Sudbury or they have Christmas with that brother-in-law who's a drunk that went to St. Charles, you've got to think twice about why those people are in that position.
"Did they meet Happy Hands?" he asked, referring to the nickname by which Marshall was known.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Talach at 1- 866-674-4994 or 519-639-2807 or email email@example.com.
Copyright © 2012 The Sudbury Star