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Part 3: Toronto-based order of priests buried allegations of sex abuse at boys camp: whistleblower

Last Updated Oct 21, 2020 at 12:29 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. 

For a group of underprivileged children from Toronto, a sunny escape became a cabin of horrors.

A whistleblower tells CityNews he reported allegations of child sexual assault by a Catholic Father and said he now wishes he hadn’t gone to the priest’s religious order to seek justice.

“In hindsight, knowing more now, I would have phoned the police,” said Bill Taylor. “But at 17, I did what I thought was right.”

This is the first time he’s publicly sharing his story.

In 1978, Taylor was a teen from Windsor who worked as a counsellor at Columbus Boys’ Camp. The now-closed Orillia institution hosted as many as 1,200 underprivileged children from the GTA every summer.

It was run by the Congregation of St. Basil, an order of Catholic priests now known as the Basilian Fathers, or Basilians, whose headquarters is in Toronto.

According to Taylor, a group of boys, between the ages of six and eight, told him and another counselor about their experiences with the Basilian director of the camp, Father Leo Campbell.

Taylor said the boys alleged that Fr. Campbell had been coming to their cabin at night, putting his hands in their sleeping bags and fondling them.

“He was sexually molesting the young boys,” alleged Taylor.

Taylor said he and another counsellor reported the allegations to Father John Malo, another Basilian priest at the camp. He remembers Fr. Malo appeared to be upset at the news.

“I don’t recall exactly what was said, but something like ‘I’ve had enough,’” Taylor told CityNews.

The next day, Taylor said Fr. Campbell disappeared. Taylor doesn’t believe the Basilians ever contacted police about the allegations.

“I was happy that he was gone,” he said. “But nobody ever interviewed me afterwards, and I never spoke to anybody other than Fr. John about it at the time.”

Church documents uncovered by CityNews show that Fr. Campbell would continue to sit on the Basilians’ board for the camp into the 1990s, even as other allegations of sexual assault were brought against him.

CityNews reached out to the Basilians multiple times, asking for an interview with one of their most senior priests, Vicar General David Katulski. 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, including Bill Taylor’s allegations. Their lawyer did forward a statement addressing some of our questions about policy and the history of the Church’s understanding of sex abuse.

Full response from the Basi… by CityNewsToronto

“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.”

The statement also notes it was believed children wouldn’t remember or be impacted by abuse. It further states that there was a lack of knowledge about attraction to children, which contributed to the thinking that sex abuse “was a moral failing, and could be addressed by deeper spiritual focus and commitment.”

Taylor never forgot the incident at the boys’ camp. In 2012, he was home from work on a sick day when he decided to Google what had happened to Fr. Campbell.

“That’s what just broke my heart, and enraged me.”

One of the search results: a website cataloguing allegations of clergy abuse. On a page about Fr. Campbell, there were details of a lawsuit against the priest and the Basilians.

The suit was from Peter Luci, who alleged he was sexually assaulted by Fr. Campbell multiple times.

It outlined how Luci had met Fr. Campbell while attending St. Mary’s High School in Sault Ste. Marie, where Fr. Campbell began teaching two years after Taylor had reported the alleged incident at the camp to the Basilians.

“That’s what just broke my heart, and enraged me,” said Taylor.

He reached out to Luci’s lawyer Rob Talach and to Fr. Malo.

In spring 2012, Taylor met with Fr. Malo at a Toronto pub. Taylor seized the opportunity to ask the Basilian about his memories of Fr. Campbell. The two priests had also worked together at St. Mary’s High School. When Fr. Campbell died in 2008, Fr. Malo delivered his eulogy.

“[Malo] acknowledged my memory, and also too obviously had great regret,” said Taylor. “[He] said that he regretted that he didn’t contact the police then too.”

CityNews reached out to Fr. Malo for an interview. In an email, he replied, “let me reflect on this and I will get back to you.” Fr. Malo never got back to us, instead we received an email from the Basilian’s lawyer, refusing our request and directing CityNews to no longer contact the priest.

Taylor swore a statement for Luci’s lawsuit, outlining the allegations from his time at Columbus Boys Camp and his frank conversation with Fr. Malo.

The former camp counsellor tells CityNews he’s happy he was able to eventually get some measure of accountability.

“The Basilian Fathers were denying any knowledge of this Leo Campbell’s behaviours,” he said. “I was able to show that, in fact, there was knowledge.”

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.