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Catholic officials failed to report sex abuse, Ontario suits allege

Images from Iqaluit, Nunavut on November 6, 2010.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Roman Catholic officials in Ontario were told on two occasions that a priest was molesting young boys but didn't alert the police or the children's aid society, allowing Rev. William Hodgson Marshall to assault children for three decades, two new civil suits allege.

One of the clerics who is alleged to have failed to report Father Marshall's sexual abuse is the late Monsignor W.E. Dillon, a long-time pastor at Sacred Heart parish in Windsor.

Father Dillon had already been identified in a previous court case as having helped cover up the transgressions of another Windsor priest, Charles Sylvestre, who sexually assaulted dozens of young girls over four decades.

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In the most recent case, Father Marshall, who is now 89, received a two-year sentence this summer after pleading guilty to 17 counts of indecent assault.

A member of the Congregation of St. Basile, Father Marshall taught and coached basketball at Windsor's Assumption High School, Sudbury's St. Charles College and Toronto's prestigious St. Michael's College School.

In a statement of claim filed this week, Jerry Boyle, a former Assumption student, alleges that Father Marshall sexually assaulted him several times, starting in the fall of 1954.

Mr. Boyle, who was 14, confided at the time to his parish pastor, Father Dillon, but the priest scolded him rather than report the allegations, the statement of claim says.

"I approached him in the confessional," Mr. Boyle said Thursday. "… He screamed at me, saying that whatever happened was my fault."

A schoolmate of Mr. Boyle was Bob McMahon, who considered Father Marshall a mentor and kept in touch with him for decades. In 1981, Father Marshall began molesting Mr. McMahon's 14-year-son, Patrick, according to the second of the statements of claim filed this week.

"That is over a quarter century after he had abused Jerry [Boyle] Jerry is the same age as Patrick's father," said lawyer Rob Talach, who represents Mr. Boyle and the younger Mr. McMahon.

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"How could Marshall get away with so much abuse over so many years? That's the central question for the Basilian fathers to answer in this lawsuit."

Mr. McMahon's statement of claim says that before Father Marshall began abusing him, two other victims in Sudbury had complained about the priest's sexual misconduct to the Basilians. "Had this been dealt with properly … he would have never been abused by Marshall," the statement said.

Mr. Talach said the two Sudbury victims made their complaint in the late 1970s.

The statement of claim also says that the Basilian Superior General, Ronald Fabbro – who is now bishop of the London diocese – learned of Father Marshall's behaviour in 1998 but didn't alert the police.

Father Marshall and the Basilians have already been sued in Toronto by four former students represented by Toronto lawyer Simona Jellinek. Their statements of claims allege that they were assaulted between 1952 to 1955.

One plaintiff said he was only seven years old when Father Marshall began molesting him, saying that it was "God's will."

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In statements of defence filed in the civil suits filed against him in Toronto, Father Marshall denied that his conduct had caused damages. "The plaintiff's damages are remote, speculative and not recoverable in law," his statements of defence said.

Rev. Timothy Scott, a spokesman for the Basilians, said the congregation had expressed "our own shame" when Father Marshall was convicted.

"These actions should have never occurred," he said.

He said the Basilians only learned of Father Marshall's abusive conduct in 1996 and immediately confronted him, removed him of his ministry and sent him for psychiatric treatment.

The congregation didn't notify police because the victim who tipped the Basilians in 1996 was by then an adult so the congregation left it to his discretion whether to contact the secular authorities, Father Scott said.

Mark Adkinson, a London diocese spokesman for Bishop Fabbro, said allegations about his actions in 1998 will be addressed by the congregation of St. Basile.

Father Dillon, the parish pastor who brushed off Mr. Boyle in 1954, was named in a Ontario Superior Court decision this spring.

The ruling found that the London diocese engaged in a cover-up of the activities of Father Sylvestre, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to 47 counts of indecent assault on 47 separate women.

The ruling noted that during the 1953-54 school year, one of Father Sylvestre's victim confided in Father Dillon. He advised her that he would "take care of it." Father Sylvestre was transferred and avoided arrest.

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More

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