Priest under House Arrest for Sexual Assaults*
By Sarah Sacheli and Jason Warick
These demonstrators assembled in front of the Ontario Court of Justice, Windsor, Ontario for the sentencing of retired priest William Hodgson Marshall.
Retired priest William Hodgson Marshall stood on legs weakened with age and admitted to sexually abusing two boys in Saskatchewan more than 50 years ago.
“I admit the hideousness,” Marshall, 90, said Monday, his voice trailing off. But he said he didn’t know he was hurting anyone.
“I don’t think I was a monster.”
Marshall was sentenced in a Windsor courtroom Monday to six months of house arrest.
He lives at Cardinal Flahiff Basilian Centre in Toronto, a home for retired and infirm priests.
His house arrest will be followed by 30 months’ probation.
Marshall pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault, as the crime was known under Canada’s Criminal Code at the time.
The two victims – former students at St. Paul’s High School, an all-male school in Saskatoon – came forward in 2011, about a month after Marshall was sentenced to two years in a federal penitentiary for sexually abusing 16 boys and one young woman in Ontario.
Those crimes were committed in Windsor, Sudbury and Toronto where he taught at Catholic high schools.
One of the victims, now in his 60s, said the sentence is not enough, but at least the world knows Marshall is guilty.
“His lawyer did a good job. He should’ve gone back to prison,” said the former student. “I have to say I still feel a lot better today.”
Most of Marshall’s victims were students in Grade 9, but one was only seven years old.
Some, like his only female victim who was in her 20s at the time, were the children of married couples he befriended.
In Windsor, where Marshall was a teacher and, later, the principal of Assumption College, he went by the nickname “Hod.”
Students, aware of how prolific he was in his abuse, dubbed him “Happy Hands.”
The two victims in Saskatchewan told police of single incidents of abuse that resembled many of the assaults in Windsor.
The first victim said he was in his first year of high school in 1959 when Marshall, his gym teacher, called him in to his office under the guise of “checking his muscles.”
Marshall had the 14-year-old boy sit on his knee and lean back over his lap. Marshall groped the boy’s genitals.
Marshall instructed the boy to come see him again the next day. The boy did not and spent his entire first year of high school avoiding Marshall.
“I blame each and every priest who was there,” the victim wrote in a statement to the court. Other priests who taught at the school knew of the abuse, but were “complicit” in covering it up.
The second victim was 15 when he found himself alone with Marshall in a hospital room in 1961. The boy had broken his finger in a school football game.
The boy’s father was at the game, but Marshall insisted, as a teacher, it was his responsibility to take the boy to hospital.
While the boy was awaiting treatment, his finger bleeding through the towel he was holding over it, Marshall slipped his hand down the front of the boy’s football pants and under his jock strap.
“From that day on, I hated high school,” the victim wrote in his statement to the court. It took him four years to finish Grade 10, then he dropped out.
“I spent four years in hell.”
Defence lawyer Andrew Bradie had asked Ontario court Justice Lloyd Dean to sentence Marshall to time served.
Had the Saskatchewan crimes been known at the time of his 2011 sentencing, the punishment would have been rolled into the two-year prison term, Bradie argued.
Additionally, Bradie argued, Marshall spent an extra five months in prison already because of the Saskatchewan charges. The priest had a parole hearing scheduled for May 2012.
Marshall had it delayed until October knowing he would not be released from prison while the Saskatchewan charges were outstanding.
Assistant Crown attorney George Spartinos asked that Marshall be sent back to jail for nine to 12 months.
Bradie spoke of Marshall’s advanced age and ill health.
Spartinos said those factors should not spare him “real jail.”
“He’s not in a position to commit future offences, but the courts have said this type of behaviour needs to be denounced.”
Marshall was St. Paul’s physical education teacher. His victims were filled with shame and fear, and did not report the abuse at the time.
“I’d tried to forget about it for the last 50 years. I told myself he was dead,” the former student told The StarPhoenix.
Three years ago, the Saskatoon men were having coffee and discussed reports of Marshall’s other Ontario convictions.
“I realized what a monster he was and that we had to tell people our story,” the man said.
They laid a complaint with police, leading to charges and Monday’s conviction.
The man thanked Saskatoon police for their hard work on the case. The pair was at first hesitant to go to police, but are now glad they did.
Saskatoon Police Service spokeswoman Alyson Edwards said police, too, are happy there has been a conviction.
“We’re pleased we have hopefully been able to bring closure to the victims,” Edwards said.
“We want to assure people we will always investigate to the best of our abilities.”
The victim says he remains bitter about his experience and is skeptical the Catholic Church has done everything it can in the case. He notes Marshall has not been stripped of his title and his living expenses will be paid by his order for the remainder of his life.
Outside the Windsor courthouse, Patrick McMahon denounced the sentence. McMahon was abused by Marshall in the 1980s. He went to police in 2009, leading 18 other victims to come forward.
If Marshall’s crimes hadn’t been covered up and he was charged when he was younger, the priest would have gone to jail and served a longer sentence, McMahon said.
“He is basically going back to his own house. That is not justice for anybody.”
McMahon said Marshall’s age should not have factored into the sentencing.
“The fact he is 90 years old means he got away with it for 50 years. The fact he got away with it for so long has shortened his jail time.”
McMahon and other sexual assault victims of Catholic priests held a demonstration on the courthouse steps before Marshall’s sentencing hearing Monday. In all, about 70 people – victims and their supporters – carried placards calling for “real time for real crime.”
Saskatoon Roman Catholic diocese Bishop Donald Bolen said he also hopes the conviction will help the victims.
“We are hopeful that with this guilty plea, the victims of Father Marshall can continue their journey of healing. We continue to pray for all victims of sexual abuse,” Bolen said in a statement.
“As a diocese, we continue to work on creating safe environments for everyone, especially the most vulnerable.
“Inappropriate conduct or criminal behaviour of any kind is neither condoned nor tolerated by the diocese, and in the situation where the young and vulnerable are entrusted to those in a position of trust and authority, zero tolerance of any questionable conduct is the norm and standard set forth in diocesan policy.”
Since 1992, the diocese of Saskatoon has developed and implemented a policy to govern situations where there is or has been allegations of sexual abuse, Bolen said.