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Part 1: Man claims he was sexually assaulted by former principal of St. Michael's College School

Last Updated Oct 21, 2020 at 12:21 pm EDT

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. 

Peter Luci loaded his father’s shotgun into the trunk of his car, drove to St. Michael’s College School, and sat in the parking lot.

His eyes fixed on the front door, he was waiting to kill Father Leo Campbell.

“He looks like a regular person, but he’s not,” says Luci. “He’s a monster. He’s a predator. He really, really is. And he’s wearing the cloth of God.”

What spurred Luci to drive to St. Michael’s was years of sexual assault he tells CityNews he endured at Fr. Campbell’s hand, while Luci was a high school student in the early 1980s.

“He taught me how to give him a blow job… I didn’t know anything about this, I was a child,” Luci reveals. “When I think about it you know, smells come back to me, and textures.”

“It’s really important for me to talk about this, for myself and for others.”

For the last year, CityNews has been investigating reports of sexual assault by Fr. Campbell and other members of an order of Catholic priests, known as the Basilians, whose headquarters are in Toronto. We will be telling their stories in a multi-part series, online and in broadcast, beginning today. The order’s calling is to teach, and they operate or staff schools and universities across Canada and into the United States and South America.

Father Leo Campbell became a member of the Congregation of St. Basil in 1965, and a fully ordained priest in 1973. He worked as a teacher or principal at multiple schools then run by the Basilians, including Michael Power, St. Basil the Great, and St. Michael’s College School in Toronto.

In 1980, Peter Luci and his brother moved from Toronto to Sault Ste. Marie, to live with relatives after his family had fallen on difficult times. Peter was 15, and he started grade nine at St. Mary’s College, a high school run by the Basilians.

“My father was in Italy, my mother was in Toronto, we were in the Sault. It was a tough time, especially for a kid,” Luci says. Campell was at St. Mary’s, teaching English and theology. When the priest started paying special attention to him, he was initially pleased.

“When I went to the school, he knew my situation,” Luci says. “He knew my parents weren’t there. He was aware of all this information. And I was vulnerable, and I was looking for it. […] Looking back, he was grooming me from the very beginning.”

Luci played basketball, and Fr. Campbell was a coach. He alleges that it was in the St. Mary’s gym that Fr. Campbell first assaulted him.

“The first time, he actually, we were just doing the same thing, giving me a hug [and he said] ‘Don’t worry your parents will be back soon, your father will be back soon.’”

From there, he alleges Fr. Campbell put him down on his lap while the priest’s penis was out. Luci says Fr. Campbell also tried to get him to perform oral sex, but he refused. He then brought him into his office, where Luci alleges Fr. Campbell took off his pants, took Luci’s hand and put it on his penis, forcing him to stroke it until Fr. Campbell ejaculated.

“He actually came all over my arm. I didn’t know what to do or how to react,” Luci says. “Went to wash myself off, and I went home. And I didn’t say anything to anyone. I kept it to myself.”

Luci says the abuse continued to escalate, alleging Fr. Campbell would force him to give him blowjobs. “It was in sections and in increments,” he says. “It was all, looking back, planned. He didn’t go too fast, he didn’t force me immediately.”

Luci alleges Fr. Campbell first raped him while on a camping trip with three other boys.

“I was frozen in fear. Not able to act or move. It was horrible.”

He says Fr. Campbell came into his small four-man tent at night and began to spoon him before forcefully inserting his penis into Luci’s anus. Another boy was in the tent at the time, Luci says.

Luci say, “I was frozen in fear. Not able to act or move. It was horrible.”

While he never told anyone about the abuse, Luci says one time after he was raped by Fr. Campbell, he began bleeding from his anus.

He said he was in so much pain, he begged his aunt and uncle to take him to the doctor. He says it was his cry for help. He was examined by a doctor, but no connection was ever made, and he was sent home.

“It was my one attempt at trying to get help,” explains Luci. “It’s just so devastating. These are the people that are supposed to protect you.”

Luci alleges Fr. Campbell abused him at least two dozen times over the two years he was at the school. It stopped when Luci left Sault Ste. Marie.

Prior allegations against priest

The Basilians knew of Fr. Campbell’s “pedophilic tendencies” before the priest ever met Luci, yet they still allowed him to teach at St. Mary’s and other institutions, records obtained by CityNews show.

In the summer before he moved to Sault Ste. Marie, Fr. Campbell admitted to sexually touching a minor. He told a therapist about an incident, which he said had happened years before, while he was being evaluated at Southdown Treatment Centre.

Southdown is a Catholic-run inpatient treatment facility north of Toronto that specializes in treating men and women in ministry. Fr. Campbell checked in for a 10-day assessment after allegations surfaced that he sexually assaulted a 14-year-old. Fr. Campbell acknowledged the incident but told his therapist that it was the boy who initiated touching.

This is not the only known allegation against Fr. Campbell from this time. Tomorrow, CityNews will bring you the story of a whistleblower who says he brought children’s complaints to the Basilians.

“He will have to be cautious in his expression of affection for his students. […] there would be no reason to dissuade him from undertaking his teaching post in the fall.”

Fr. Campbell’s therapist would report back to the Basilians, recommending that he check in for a three-month stay at the facility, and undergo regular counselling to better understand his own sexuality. On the matter of Fr. Campbell’s teaching, the therapist tells the Basilians: “He will have to be cautious in his expression of affection for his students. […] there would be no reason to dissuade him from undertaking his teaching post in the fall.”

CityNews reached out to the Basilians multiple times, asking for an on-the-record interview with their senior priest. Our requests were denied. Eventually, we sent a detailed list of questions for an official response. The order declined to answer questions about specific individuals or events, but their lawyer did forward a statement on some of our questions about policy and the history of the Church’s understanding of sex abuse.

“There has never been any doubt or misunderstanding that sexual abuse of a child is, and always has been, wrong,” the Basilians write. “Where there has been historical misunderstanding by professionals, the Basilians included, is with respect to the impact of sexual abuse upon a child.”

Full response from the Basi… by CityNewsToronto

The statement says a historical lack of understanding of paraphilias, such as an attraction to children, contributed to the thinking that sex abuse “was a moral failing, and could be addressed by deeper spiritual focus and commitment.”

“Treatment providers often treated those against whom allegations of sexual abuse had been made and, believing them to be cured, cleared them to return to work.”

From priest to principal

Fr. Campbell would remain at St. Mary’s until 1988. In those years, he became athletic director and then principal, taking over from his predecessor, Basilian Father William Hod Marshall. Marshall would later confess and serve time in prison for sexually assaulting 17 children. Fr. Campbell would also continue to be a director of the Basilian-run Columbus Boys Camp, and to run dozens of other students’ retreats for schools in Ontario and Eastern Canada.

After eight years in the Sault, the Basilians asked Fr. Campbell to move back to Toronto and become principal at St. Michael’s College School. He was in that job until he was suspended in spring 1992, when another historic abuse allegation came to light.

CityNews reached out to St. Michael’s, asking for an interview with Fr. Andrew Leung, the Basilian priest who is president of the school. The school declined an on-camera interview, but said to their knowledge, Basilian headquarters did not inform those in charge at St. Michael’s at the time about any allegations against Fr. Campbell.

Following the most recent allegations, Fr. Campbell once again checked into Southdown. This time he received a formal diagnosis of ephebophilia – a sexual attraction to teenagers.

“It seems clear that within the past six months, even up to a few weeks ago, that Leo experiences sexual arousal or feelings of sexual pleasure, sexual ideation or urges by looking at certain young boys from ages 10 or 11 up to 18,” his therapist wrote in a report to the Basilians. “Leo should have no unsupervised contact with early teen-age boys.”

Fr. Campbell stayed at Southdown receiving treatment for several months, and he would never return as principal to St. Mike’s. However, in 1998 he would return to the prestigious boys’ school to teach religion and be tasked with the spiritual guidance of students as Head of Chaplaincy.

That put a fragile Peter Luci over the edge.

A victim’s confrontation

While Fr. Campbell continued teaching and ministering, Luci had issues with substance abuse, gambling and severe depression. He also estimates he attempted suicide at least 10 times.

“I just wanted to go to sleep and not have to deal with it anymore. I lost everything. I lost myself,” he says. “I had no self-worth. I thought that what he did, I deserved. It wouldn’t happen to a child if that child was worth anything.”

While he can’t recall the exact date, Luci said when he found out Fr. Campbell was working at St. Mike’s, he felt extreme guilt the man who caused him so much pain was still around children.

In a moment of rage, he drove to St. Michael’s College with his father’s shotgun, a disguise and a change of clothes. Gripping his steering wheel, he waited outside for Fr. Campbell to emerge. He never did, and after four hours, Luci restrained himself and drove away.

“The hate just boiled over. I couldn’t control myself.”

“If he’d have walked out, I would have shot him. I would have ruined my life. And I would have regretted it for the rest of my life,” he says. “The hate just boiled over. I couldn’t control myself … and I reacted and thank goodness, like I said, it didn’t come to pass.”

For Luci, the situation came to a head yet again around 2004. At a friend’s wedding he came face to face with Fr. Campbell, who was witnessing the ceremony. During the reception, he says he confronted the priest after seeing him surrounded by children. “I said, ‘Do you remember me?’ and you know, he just, he knew who I was … He knew it and he was just cowering. And he backed off.”

The pain of surviving

This encounter pushed Luci to finally tell his then-wife what happened to him decades earlier. The abuse had been affecting his marriage, not just through Luci’s addictions, but in his difficulty being intimate with his partner.

She encouraged him to seek therapy. He went to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and saw multiple therapists before being referred to psychotherapist Lynne MacDonell, who specializes in men who have survived sexual abuse. He also joined a weekly men’s support group for childhood sexual assault survivors.

On Luci’s behalf, in January 2008, MacDonell emailed his allegations about Fr. Campbell to Basilian Vicar General Fr. Gordon Judd, who was then-case manager for abuse complaints. Judd responded, saying the Basilians were very concerned with victims of abuse, and proposed times to speak about the situation.

“He obviously was very emotional and frightened. But by the end of the interview, he had calmed and said that he found it freeing to finally tell his story.”

Judd asked another Basilian, Fr. William Alden “Bill” Riegel, the order’s Promoter of Justice, to conduct an investigation and meet with Luci to hear the details of his allegations. In his report, Reigel said he found Luci’s story “to be very straight-forward and intelligible.

“He obviously was very emotional and frightened. But by the end of the interview, he had calmed and said that he found it freeing to finally tell his story.”

Reigel also interviewed Fr. Campbell, who said he didn’t remember Luci, but did recall the other boys on the camping trip. Reigel reported that at the end of the interview, Fr. Campbell appeared depressed and concerned about his future as a priest.

Reigel concluded that he found Luci’s story credible, and that “obviously he has suffered trauma that still affects him in a significant way.” On Feb. 11, he submitted his report to the Basilians, recommending they pay for six months of counselling (which they later do).

Three days later, on Valentine’s Day 2008, Fr. Campbell died suddenly from unknown causes at the age of 68. His funeral was held at Holy Rosary Church, down the road from St. Michael’s College School, which established a bursary in his name.

In his obituary posted in the Basilian Newsletter, Campbell is remembered as a priest who “had a special ability to reach out to the disenfranchised and alienated.”

Suing the Basilians

In September 2009, Luci sued the Basilians and Fr. Campbell’s estate. They settled in 2015 for $250,000. The settlement states that the agreement is not an admission of liability from the Basilians.

“I didn’t care about the money. I wanted them to say sorry I wanted them to take responsibility, I wanted them to make changes,” says Luci.

Following multiple suicide attempts and drug addiction, Luci says he has been sober for more than three years. He believes Fr. Campbell has more alleged victims and encourages them to come forward.

“I know it’s a difficult, a very difficult thing, but get some help,” he advises. “The only way you’re going to get any kind of peace and tranquility in your life is if you let go of this and come forward.”

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.