William Hodgson Marshall entered a Windsor courtroom Wednesday morning as a Roman Catholic priest, a championship basketball coach and a teacher of young men for half a century.
The 88-year-old left that afternoon as a criminal, an admitted sexual abuser of children — some of them former students, at least one the son of close friends — after pleading guilty to indecently assaulting 15 boys and one girl during his teaching career in Windsor, Toronto and Sudbury. He will be sentenced Thursday.
The earliest charge dates back to 1953, the later ones from the 1980s.
Four victims are from Toronto, at least one of them a student at St. Michael’s College School in the 1950s where Marshall taught mathematics and coached basketball. There are six victims from both Sudbury and Windsor.
Most of Marshall’s victims were students at all-boys’ high schools run by the congregation of St. Basil’s, a Roman Catholic order of teaching priests. The Basilian Fathers, as the priests are more commonly known, operate St. Mike’s.
Windsor crown attorney Walter Costa said it was a “difficult, emotional day” with the reading of all the victim impact statements. But he hopes it was a cathartic experience.
“Now that (the victims) have been vindicated, hopefully that will give them the power and ability to enjoy themselves moving forward and not have to carry that secret burden any more.’’
A joint sentencing submission from the crown and Marshall’s lawyer Andrew Bradie requests a two-year prison term, three years probation and an order to report to the sexual offender information registry and provide a DNA sample.
The Basilians issued a statement from spokesperson Rev. Timothy Scott that read in part:
“The Basilian Fathers wish to express our deep shame that one of our members has acted this way. These criminal acts against children are a violation of our religious vows and are grievously sinful ... This should never have happened.”
Marshall’s decades-long string of sexual assaults on children went unreported for nearly 60 years until a 43-year-old Windsor man complained to police in May of 2010.
The retired priest’s long pattern of abuse raises questions about how Marshall was able to operate so brazenly, particularly since he routinely preyed on students during school hours.
“A perfect storm of factors” allows this to happen, said David Clohessy, the national director of U.S.-based non-profit group SNAP — Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. He said a church with a history of protecting offenders and a priest’s criminal guile help cloak molesters from outsiders’ scrutiny.
“You’ve got an amazingly shrewd and cunning predator. You’ve got savvy, secretive, powerful church officials. You’ve got timid lay people trained not to question the church hierarchy and I think you’ve got somewhat timid and passive law enforcement,’’ Clohessy said in an interview this week.
Clohessy has followed the Marshall case closely and said it’s unlikely the priest’s victim count was only 16.
“For every one victim who finds the courage, strength and ability to speak up, I think there are easily 10 to 20 more who can’t and won’t,’’ Clohessy said.
Marshall, who is battling skin cancer, worked at Windsor’s Assumption College and St. Mike’s in the 1950s. He then moved to Sudbury’s St. Charles College, where he worked for nearly two decades. His next stop was as principal at St. Mary’s College in Sault Ste. Marie before returning to Windsor in 1985. There, he was the founding principal of Holy Names.
Marshall remains a priest. He has not been laicized (defrocked) and there appears no move to initiate that process with the Vatican, which oversees expulsions.