Over the course of 38 years, William “Hod” Hodgson Marshall — who served as a Basilian priest and Catholic teacher in Sudbury, Toronto and Windsor — sexually abused at least 17 minors.
“I grew up Catholic in Windsor. I was an altar boy at a church in the east end,” recalls filmmaker Matt Gallagher.
“I was a grown man when these things about certain priests started coming out … I haven’t considered myself a Catholic since I was 18 years old. But this film was still very difficult to do.”
“It’s stories of abuse, told by men, kept secret for so long.”
Set for a world premiere next month, Gallagher’s latest documentary project — a TVO production entitled Prey — gets particularly close with one of Marshall’s victims, Rod MacLeod, and his search for justice.
MacLeod was a student at an all-boys high school in Sudbury in the 1960s when he first became subject to Marshall’s attention at the age of 13.
The abuse went on for four years.
The film’s central narrative is MacLeod’s modern-day lawsuit against the Basilian Fathers of Toronto, the Catholic order that moved Marshall from community to community despite knowledge of his predations.
Shot over the course of the spring and summer of 2018, the documentary follows the civil proceedings. Now 69 years old, MacLeod was represented by London lawyer Rob Talach.
“They call (Talach) ’The Priest Hunter,’” Gallagher explains. “He’s filed 395 lawsuits against the Catholic church.”
“Rod MacLeod refused to settle. He turned down all the offers the church threw at him, because he wanted to have a public trial. He wanted people to hear this story.”
Marshall died in 2014 at the age of 92. But the man who some students secretly called “Happy Hands” still makes a haunting appearance in the film — in the form of a video deposition that was previously sealed evidence.
“We had access to a 90-minute video of this priest confessing to four decades of crime,” Gallagher says. “It has never been seen before.”
Recorded in 2012, the deposition video shows a fixed shot of Marshall’s withered face as he struggles to answer Talach’s questions.
“You knew, in those days, sir, that it was a criminal offence, correct?” Talach demands.
“I imagine so,” Marshall replies.
“You knew it was wrong?”
“Yes,” Marshall replies, weakly.
Gallagher says the Catholic church also has a voice in the film through a spokesman for the Basilian Fathers, Fr. David Katulski.
“That’s one of the most interesting things,” Gallagher says. “His job is to handle all these cases of abuse by priests. Father Katulski is an honourable man, but his job is to deal with victims, over and over and over.”
“He basically has the worst job in the Catholic church.”
Although MacLeod is the focus of the documentary, Gallagher also turned his lens on other survivors — such as Windsor resident Patrick McMahon, who came forward with the first criminal complaint against Marshall.
“Patrick has been doing these one-man protests around the city of Windsor,” Gallagher explains. “One weekend, during the summer, the bishop was supposed to make an announcement in a letter to be read at all the churches in the diocese.”
“I followed Patrick with my camera as he went to these churches and silently stood outside them with his signs. Most everyone ignored him.”
Gallagher says McMahon is also responsible for the title of the documentary — a play on the words ‘pray’ and ‘prey.’
MacLeod’s lawsuit was decided last April 26, and the film’s world premiere in Toronto next month will be exactly one year later.
Despite the dark nature of the documentary’s subject matter, Gallagher feels there’s also a good deal of hope to be found in it — the bringing of truth to light.
“These are things that, in some cases, have been kept buried for 50-plus years,” Gallagher said. “It was very difficult for these men to tell these stories. But I think they’re doing the right thing.”
Prey premieres at the 2019 Hot Docs Festival in Toronto on April 26, with repeat screenings April 27 and May 2.
The film will be broadcast on TVOntario this fall.
Visit www.bordercitypicturesinc.com for more information.
Published on March 22, 2019