Father William Hodgson Marshall faces four new lawsuits
Robert Talach said it’s time society stopped turning a blind eye to the past and stepped up to bring justice to fruition. The litigation lawyer with Ledroit Beckett addressed local media March 28 at the Radisson Hotel regarding the commencement of four new civil lawsuits against Father William Hodgson Marshall, a man found guilty of sexual abuse against a long list of his former students. Also named in the lawsuit are the Basilian Fathers of Toronto, the Sudbury Catholic District School Board, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Bishop Ronald Peter Fabbro, all being either employers or supervisors of Marshall during the time of the crimes.
Marshall, also referred to as “Happy Hands” by former victims, was convicted and sentenced in June 2011 for the sexual abuse of 17 young people while he was serving as a Roman Catholic priest and educator.
His crimes spanned over three decades, despite him being reported to school and church officials several times over those years, Talach said. Since December, 10 additional lawsuits have been launched out of Windsor, Toronto and Saskatchewan for similar crimes.
Marshall worked at St. Charles College in Sudbury from 1961 to 1970, during which time he abused the four men seeking justice in the lawsuits, Talach said.
Marshall was transferred out of St. Charles in late 1970, but in 1973, he came back, serving another five years as principal of the school. In 1978, he was transferred to St. Mary’s College in Sault Ste. Marie where he reigned as principal until 1985.
Two of Marshall’s victims — Ted Holland, 56, and Denis Beland, 55 — revisited their dark pasts Wednesday afternoon in an effort to encourage other victims to step forward.
Beland, 4-10 and 90 pounds at the time, was a year younger than his classmates when he started Grade 9 at St. Charles College. Holland referred to his comrade as “easy prey” for Marshall.
Beland’s abuse began within days after he started high school, and continued, at least twice a week.
“I had come forward during my Grade 9 year,” Beland said. “I was telling all of my school friends what he was doing to me. But I was one of the favoured sons, if you will, one of his favourite prey.”
The abuse continued until midway through the next school year. That’s when Beland had enough. “I exited the school during one session inside his office and I yelled a lot of dirty words and called him a bunch of names and just ran and hitchhiked all the way to Skead, where I lived,” he said. And then he was expelled.
“The principal was at our house the following Monday expelling me from the school for being mentally unstable and saying bad things about Father Marshall and making all these wild accusations,” Beland recalled. “That was my exodus from St. Charles.”
He said he’s “always felt a little empty” as a result of his “encounters with the teacher-priest Marshall.”
His message to other victims is to talk to somebody about what happened.
“(Everybody) has their various reasons for not wanting to come forward,” Beland said. “My suggestion to them is, you might want to come forward just for yourself, to seek some counseling, to get the piano off your back. You feel less restrained and restricted, and it has a tremendous effect on raising your pride level.
“You were a kid, you were victimized by an adult. You didn’t commit the crime, so why should you feel guilty as a victim?”
Beland is one of the men presently seeking compensation through the new lawsuits. Holland already navigated those waters. In 1998, he was “paid-off” by the Basilian’s.
“It feels like I was bought off to keep my silence,” he said. As a result, the settlement has given him no sense of peace.
“I’m not elated with this,” he said. “There are hundreds of students out there that were abused that I wish would come forward.”
Holland’s abuse occurred on a less regular basis than Beland’s. There were three incidents Holland recalls between November and December of 1969 when he was in Grade 9. Before the end of the year, he told his father what was happening and his father went to the school board. Holland’s abuse stopped after that. But the effects have lasted a lifetime. He’s never been married and has no children, and said it’s been difficult to be intimate with the opposite sex “because he was the first person to touch me in an intimate fashion.”
He said he’s also been told that he’s ruined the reputation of St. Charles College. “I didn’t ruin the reputation of St. Charles College,” he said. “I went there for five years and hitchhiked on a daily basis to go to that school. Academically, athletically, it’s a wonderful school, with the exception of this one individual.”
In fact, Holland became a teacher and taught at his alma mater for one year. “Many feel that the story of Marshall blackens the prestige of St. Charles and St. Mary’s Colleges,” Talach said. “What truly blackens these schools and all the good they stood for is the continuation of a cover-up that allowed these crimes to happen. “This type of conduct could not have gone for so long without a blind eye or deference to church and school and really a misguided approach to dealing with this issue,” he added.
In 21 years of employment in both Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, Talach said Marshall has crossed paths with numerous students, parents, teachers and clergymen.
“Those (people) are all pieces of this puzzle and we hope that any of them with information steps forward and contacts us,” he said. “For those who are haunted by what they know, sharing that truth will also hopefully set you free and allow this dark chapter in the lives of many to move towards closure.”
The lawyer described Marshall’s ongoing abuse as “a disease that struck the city.”
“To make sure it doesn’t strike again, you need to diagnose … the cause,” he said. “The cause here was a lot of people turning their heads, a lot of cover-up within the institutions.
“That makes it a very contemporary message,” he continued. “We need to turn the corner on how we deal with these issues and not say ‘the institution is more important than the student and we’re going to cover this up.’”