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14 priests from Toronto teaching order involved in sex assault cases

Last Updated Oct 13, 2020 at 8:26 pm EDT

Photo credit: Basilian Fathers General Archives

CAUTION: This story contains graphic content related to allegations of sexual assault and might be upsetting to some readers.

If you or someone you know are victims of sexual violence, you can contact Crisis Services Canada, a 24/7 hotline, at 1-833-456-4566 or you can find local support through the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres; The Government of Canada has also compiled a list of sexual misconduct support centres. If you are under 18 and need help, contact the Kid’s Help Phone online or at 1-800-668-6868. 

A CityNews investigation has revealed at least a dozen priests belonging to a Catholic order based in Toronto have been accused of sexually abusing children – including three who were found guilty of assaulting dozens of children under their care. 

The Basilian Fathers of Toronto is a group of priests whose calling is to teach. As one of the oldest Catholic orders in Canada, the group has run or staffed more than a dozen schools. Much of the admitted or alleged abuse detailed below happened at their institutions.

CityNews has compiled the first public list of Basilians who have been accused of or admitted to misconduct with children. It was assembled by combing through public court files, historical press coverage, and U.S. lists of credibly accused priests, published by Church officials themselves.

More than 170 such lists have been published in the United States, some voluntarily released by Catholic diocese and orders, others compelled as part of court cases, including Grand Jury hearings and bankruptcy proceedings for cash-strapped church organizations. No such lists have been published in Canada.

“It’s time to clear out the records and release the names of these priests,” says Brenda Brunelle, a Canadian leader of the Survivors Network of Accused Priests. “So people […] can be assured their children are safe.”

Brunelle is pushing the Basilians to release their own list of credibly accused priests. She says it’s imperative, as the priests continue to run and staff schools across North and South America.

After the order declined in-person interviews, CityNews asked the Basilians via email whether the group would release their own list.

In a statement issued through their lawyer, the Basilians did not directly answer the question, instead stating that lists are “a very complex topic.”

The order states that criteria for who to name when there isn’t a criminal conviction, and protecting the privacy of victims, must be considered.

“Publishing the name of a perpetrator can lead to speculation about who is or may be a victim, and lead right back to a victim who wishes to protect their identity,” the Basilians write.

Some of the cases below are ongoing, including a number filed this year after New York State legislators changed the deadline for filing historical sexual assault claims. Their allegations have not been proven in court. A number of cases were also settled out of court; they don’t include any admission of wrongdoing.

CityNews has also viewed documents suggesting that the list below is not exhaustive. The most accurate count, if one exists, lies within Basilian records.

1) Father Frederick Cahill 

Born: July 6, 1920, St. John’s, Nfld.

Ordained: July 4, 1951

Died: Jan. 4, 1983, aged 62, Calgary, Alta.

Photo credit: Basilian Fathers General Archives

Allegations: In 2018 and 2019, the Basilians settled two lawsuits involving former male students at Bishop Grandin High School in Calgary. The plaintiffs were each in their mid-teens in the late 1970s and early 1980s when they allege Cahill, who was their teacher and spiritual advisor, sexually abused them. One of the lawsuits alleges that before the teen was abused by Cahill, the Basilians had already received sexual misconduct complaints against the priest but didn’t remove him from teaching. These allegations have not been independently verified by CityNews.

Cahill – Statement of Claim… by CityNewsToronto

Cahill taught at Bishop Grandin from 1969 to his death in 1983. He also led youth programming for St. Gerard’s church and was chaplain for the Columbus Boys Camp location in southwest Alberta. His prior teaching posts included Assumption College School in Windsor, Ont., St. Francis High School in Lethbridge, Alta., and St. Mary’s Boys’ School in Calgary.

In the Dictionary of Basilian Biography, Cahill is remembered as “impeccable in his appearance, with a disarming smile and a ready greeting, he had a talent for attracting and influencing youth.”

2) Father Leo Campbell 

Born: July 20, 1939, Cape Breton, N.S.

Ordained: June 15, 1974

Died: Feb. 11, 2008, age 68, Toronto

Photo credit: Basilian Fathers General Archives

Allegations: A years-long investigation by CityNews has revealed that Campbell was accused of child abuse multiple times. Twice, allegations caused the Basilians to pull Campbell from his posts as teacher or principal and send him for psychiatric evaluation and treatment. Though doctors told the Basilians that Campbell was attracted to teen boys, they allowed him to resume teaching. Click here for a full timeline of the allegations against Campbell.

3) Father John Thaddeus Cherry 

Born: Dec. 12, 1919, Houston, Tex.

Ordained: June 22, 1947

Died: Feb. 21, 1973, age 53, Merriville, Ind.

Allegations: A civil suit has been filed in New York State involving historical allegations of abuse against Cherry. According to details reported by clergy watchdog Bishop Accountability, the allegations stem from around 1968. At the time, the plaintiff was a 17-year-old student at the boys-only Aquinas Institute, a private Catholic high school in Rochester, N.Y. The suit was filed in August 2019 and the allegations have not been proven in court.

The bulk of Cherry’s 25-year career was spent at the Aquinas Institute, which was under official Basilian direction from 1937 to 2000. Starting at Aquinas in 1956, Cherry taught general science before being promoted to director of discipline and eventually vice principal.

In 1970, he was transferred to Andrean High School in Indiana, where he became principal. He is described in the Dictionary of Basilian Biography as a calm man who at first came off as severe. The biography adds “his strong sense of justice and dignity led him to respect his students, even problem cases, and to become a kind arbiter for anyone in trouble.”

Early in his teaching career, Cherry also worked at Assumption College in Windsor, St. Thomas High School in Houston and Catholic Central High School in Detroit.

4) Father Michael Fallona

Born: June 13, 1938, London, Ont.

Ordained: July 3, 1967

Age: 82

Photo credit: Basilian Fathers General Archives

Allegations: Brenda Brunelle alleges she was sexually abused by Fallona starting in 1977, when she was 13 years old. At the time, she and her family attended St. Vincent de Paul Church in London, Ont., where Fallona was clergy.

A statement signed by Fallona, given to CityNews by the lawyer for the Basilian Fathers of Toronto, disputes the allegations and his inclusion on Brunelle’s list. It reads in part, “I never abused Brenda Brunelle, or anybody else.” In 2012, Brunelle and the Basilians reached a settlement, which does not include any admission of guilt. You can read more on Brunelle’s story later this week on CityNews.

5) Father Jack Hanna

Born: 1944

Ordained: 1974 

Age: 76 

Allegations: Hanna appears on a list of priests who are “credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct with minors” issued by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in Texas. The list covers allegations from 1950- onwards that occurred within the boundaries of the diocese.  

Hanna taught at St. Thomas High School in Houston from 1981 until 2013. He resigned that year after an accusation of “unspecified misconduct, as local media reports. In a statement at the time, the Basilians said Hanna “acknowledged that he behaved inappropriately” and would undergo in-patient treatment. Church administration has not publicly stated whether this incident is what led to Hanna’s inclusion on the diocese’s list of credibly accused priests 

The Houston-Galveston list notes Hanna had his priest’s faculties removed by local church administration in 2013. The Basilians have also stated that Hanna has been removed from active ministry, though he remains a priest. 

6) Father William Hod Marshall 

Born: 1922 

Ordained: 1951 

Died: July 28, 2014, age 92  

Photo credit: Basilian Fathers General Archives

Allegations: In 2011, Marshall pleaded guilty and was convicted of abusing 17 Ontario children. He was also separately convicted of assaulting two boys in Saskatchewan. Marshall would spend 16 months in prison for the Ontario offences. He voluntarily gave up his priesthood before he died. 

Marshall said whenever he was confronted about his actions, he would confess, and would often be moved to another school. He said he assaulted boys at nearly every school he worked at.  

In 2020, after an eight-year legal battle, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld survivor Rod MacLeod’s record civil judgment against the Basilians. The Basilian Fathers of Toronto had tried to appeal a 2018 Ontario civil jury award that granted MacLeod more than $2.5 million, including $500,000 in punitive damages – an unprecedented amount for Canadian cases of clergy abuse. The jury wrote the Basilians concealed Marshall’s behaviour to avoid “scandal,” were “grossly negligent” and “put children in harm’s way.”

7) Father John James Kenneth O’Keefe 

BornOct. 7, 1930 

Ordained: 1958 

Died: March 20, 2018, age 87, Toronto 

Allegations: In 2012 and 2013, O’Keefe pleaded guilty to two separate incidents of child sexual abuse. One victim was a student at St. Piux X High School in Ottawa in 1974, where O’Keefe taught. After the student had a fight with his parents, the priest invited him to stay overnight at his apartment. The student awoke to find O’Keefe sexually assaulting him. O’Keefe received a nine-month conditional sentence, served as house arrest. 

The second case involved a 17-year-old student at Ottawa’s St. Joseph’s Catholic School, where O’Keefe also taught. The priest pleaded guilty to assaulting the boy for four months in fall 1969. He was again sentenced to nine-months of house arrest. In 2013, the Ontario College of Teachers stripped O’Keefe of his teaching licence.  

8Father Raphael O’Loughlin 

BornMay 7, 1916, Ashfield Township, Ont. 

Ordained: Aug. 15, 1942 

Died: March 19, 1998, age 81, Toronto 

Photo credit: Basilian Fathers General Archives

Allegations: O’Loughlin appears on a list of priests who are “credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct with minors” issued by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in Texas. The list covers allegations from 1950-onwards that occurred within the boundaries of the diocese. It does not include any information on what led to O’Loughlin’s inclusion on the list. 

O’Loughlin was a priest for more than four decades. Early in his career he taught at Toronto’s St. Michael’s College School, Detroit’s Catholic Central High School and Houston’s St. Thomas High School. He also taught men studying to become priests in Indiana.  

The Dictionary of Basilian Biography describes O’Loughlin’s life’s calling as working with Hispanic communities in Texas and Mexico. His biography notethe six-foot-eight priest was “popular with children, first by his size and then by his playful manner.”  

 9Father Louis Francis Purcell 

Born: Sept. 22, 1912, Seaforth, Ont. 

Ordained: Aug. 15, 1940 

Died: Aug 26, 1983, age 70, Windsor, Ont. 

Photo credit: Basilian Fathers General Archives

Allegations: A former student of St. Mary’s College School in Sault Ste. Marie filed an Ontario civil suit against the Basilians in September 2020. The suit alleges Purcell abused the boy repeatedly at school for four years, starting in 1973 when the boy was 14 years old.  

Purcell worked at the Basilian school as an English teacher and guidance counsellor at the time. 

In the suit, the former student alleges he was often groped by the priest, forced to watch the priest sexually gratify himself, and to participate.  

The suit seeks more than $3 million in compensation from the Basilians. The allegations have not been proven in court.  

Purcell- Statement of Claim by CityNewsToronto

In his 36-year career, Purcell taught aseven Basilian high schools, including St. Michael’s College School in Toronto. He was also assistant pastor at St. Basil’s parish in Toronto for seven years. 

In the Dictionary of Basilian Biography, he is remembered as “a man for others, ever open and available to students, colleagues or parishioners,” with a sense of humor that was sharp but “never offensive.” 

10) Father Wilfred Samuel Riley 

Born: March 23, 1903, Chatham, Ont. 

Ordained: Dec. 17, 1939 

DiedMay 15, 1984, age 81, Toronto  

Allegations: A lawsuit was filed in New York State in July 2020 involving historical allegations of sexual abuse against Riley. The plaintiff was a 15-year-old student at the all-boys Aquinas Institute in Rochester, N.Y. The suit alleges that starting in 1956, the priest sexually abused him. The allegations have not been proven in court. 

Riley worked as a teacher and director of discipline at Aquinas from 1950 to 1957. He also served at schools and parishes in Owen Sound, Windsor, Houston and Detroit. In the Dictionary of Basilian Biography he is remembered as a “tough disciplinarian” who used his four-inch-wide mathematics yardstick on students “from time to time.” 

 11) Father John Walter Seniawski 

Born: April 29, 1947, Rochester, N.Y.

Ordained: 1977 

Died: June 20, 1991, age 44, Rochester

Allegations: In November 2019, a man filed a civil suit in New York State alleging that Seniawski sexually assaulted him when he was 16 years old and homeless. The assault allegedly happened in 1986, when the boy went to the Basilians to ask for food stamps. 

Seniawski Complaint by CityNewsToronto

The suit alleges that Seniawski groped the boy and forced him to participate in sexual acts. When it was done, the suit alleges the priest then took the boy to the grocery store and gave him money.  

Seniawski taught history and theology at the Basilian’s all-boys Aquinas Institute, and he also organized fishing trips for students. In the 1970s, Seniawski also worked in Canada, teaching at Michael Power High School in Toronto, and spending summers at Columbus Boys’ Camp in Orillia, Ont.

The suit also alleges the boy was assaulted by another Basilian on campus – Father Ronald Schwenzer. The case is ongoing, and none of the allegations have been proven in court. 

 12) Father Ronald Schwenzer 

Born: 1940, Webster, NY 

Ordained: 1968 

Age: 80 

Allegations: Schwenzer is named in a New York State lawsuit filed in November 2019 against the Basilians. In it, a plaintiff alleges that as a 16-year-old homeless boy in Rochester in 1986, he was sexually assaulted by Schwenzer and another Basilian priest, Father John Seniawski (see above document). He alleges the abuse began when he was directed to the Basilians for food stamps.  

The plaintiff, who is anonymous, told local news that Schwenzer assaulted him repeatedly, when he returned to the Basilians for food. The case is ongoing, and none of the allegations have been proven in court. 

In his career as a Basilian educator, Schwenzer helmed four of the orders’ schools. He retired in 2012 after a 14-year stint as principal and president of St. Thomas High School in Houston. As recently as 2019, Schwenzer was a vicar in a Rochester church.  

13Father John J. Stortz 

BornApril 28, 1925, Welland, Ont. 

Ordained: 1953 

Died: May 28, 2013, age 88, Toronto 

Allegations: In 1998, three women filed an Ontario civil case against Stortz, the Basilian Fathers of Toronto, and the Cardinal Flahiff Basilian Centre. The details of the case are missing from official court files, however, the records indicate it was closed in 2001, with the consent of all parties. 

A CityNews source confirms that it was a sexual assault case, and that there was a settlement out of court, the details of which are under a gag order.  

A teacher, coach and athletic director, Stortz worked at Toronto’s Michael Power High School, as well as schools in Windsor, SudburySaskatoon and Houston.  He was also involved with local chapters of the Knights of Columbus. 

14Father Robert Whyte 

BornMarch 8, 1921 

Ordained: 1947 

Died: July 22, 2014, age 93, Toronto

Photo credit: Basilian Fathers General Archives

Allegations: In 1990, Whyte pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison for 18 counts of indecent assault and one count of attempted indecent assault. The Basilian priest abused boys between 1962 and 1982. The minors, aged 11 to 17, were altar servers or students. At the time, he was a priest at Calgary’s St. Pius Catholic Church, and taught at St. Mary’s Boys School and another institution.  

Robert Whyte coverage by CityNewsToronto

At trial, Whyte was described as having a pattern of befriending children’s’ families and then inviting the children to sleepovers or camping trips. The court also heard the Basilians sent Whyte for treatment for five months in 1977 but didn’t do anything else to address abuse. 

If you or someone you know are victims of sexual violence, you can contact Crisis Services Canada, a 24/7 hotline, at 1-833-456-4566 or you can find local support through the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres; The Government of Canada has also compiled a list of sexual misconduct support centres. If you are under 18 and need help, contact the Kid’s Help Phone online or at 1-800-668-6868.

CityNews has created a Facebook group to give survivors of child sexual assault a safe place for them to know they’re not alone.

This is a confidential space in hopes that those who’ve been abused by a Basilian Father or a priest from any Catholic order may want to share their story, either anonymously or with their name.

You can request to join here.