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.
Leo Campbell desperately wanted to become a Catholic priest.
In his handwritten application letter to the Congregation of St. Basil, he wrote he wanted “to forgive sin, and prevent sin,” adding, “In short, I want to be a Basilian to love.”
His wish would be granted. Campbell began training to become a Basilian father in 1965 and became a fully ordained priest in 1974.
Like the rest of his religious order, his calling was to teach. For three decades, he was an instructor, counsellor or principal at high schools and universities across North America. He also organized dozens of student camping retreats.
Beyond the allegations brought by Columbus Boys Camp counsellor Bill Taylor and former student Peter Luci, Fr. Campbell’s Basilian personnel files outline several other allegations of assault. The priest also admitted to two incidents of sexual contact with young teenage boys, though he claimed they were both consensual.
Accusations of sexual touching are what prompted the priest’s two visits to Southdown Treatment Centre – a Catholic health centre north of Toronto that specializes in treating men and women in ministry. It’s there in 1980 that a therapist first diagnoses Fr. Campbell with “pedophilic tendencies.”
The label would become more precise after Fr. Campbell’s second stay at the facility in 1992: ephebophilia, sexual attraction to young teens.
The priest told his mental health team that he knew of his attraction to younger teenage boys by his early 20s, but he didn’t want to accept those feelings at the time.
There are more than 7,000 priests alone in Canada, and it’s unknown how many have been accused of having sexual contact with children. There is no public national list of credibly accused or convicted clergy that exists.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs points out that not all pedophiles abuse children, and not everyone who abuses children is a pedophile.
Sister Nuala Kenny, a Catholic nun and pediatrician who has been on the frontlines of the Church’s response to sexual abuse for four decades, say that it’s now understood that abusers fit into two categories: fixed and situational.
She says 85 per cent of Catholic priests who abuse are situational offenders, whose actions are driven by an immature understanding of themselves and their sexuality. The other 15 per cent are driven by a fixed sexual attraction to minors. A study conducted in 2010 found that sexual abusers with pedophilic tendencies toward boys had at least four victims on average.
“We’ve had some startling confessions from other Basilian priests, other perpetrator priests, who have pegged the number of victims to two to three victims per year on an ongoing basis,” said lawyer Rob Talach, who specializes in cases of sexual abuse against the Catholic Church. “Running those numbers with Fr. Campbell, over the time he was serving as a priest, we’re starting to get into a very large cohort of victims.”
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. Their lawyer sent a statement addressing 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.”
The statement says a historical lack of understanding of attraction to children meant “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.”
The Basilians say they “have adopted policies that reduce or negate opportunities for potential abuse.” Those include not being alone with children or vulnerable people in private settings, no one-on-one trips and background checks. The order also pays for some counselling for victims and has classes on conduct and boundaries for priests.
A history of allegations
Decades of allegations against Fr. Campbell were documented in the priest’s Basilian personnel file. Many of the earliest known incidents are alleged to have happened in the 1970s, when the priest was in his 30s.
While some of the allegations were reported to authorities or listed in civil cases against Fr. Campbell and the Basilians, none have been proven in court.
One incident, which Fr. Campbell admitted to his Southdown therapist, involved a 14-year-old boy in the early 1970s.
He explained to his therapist that due to a shortage of sleeping space, he ended up sharing a bed with the teen. “He said that this boy initiated sexual touching with him and that they started to mutually kiss each other and fondle each other’s genitals.”
Fr. Campbell’s second stay at Southdown was in 1992. Details of the allegation that led to his second visit are unknown, but his treatment report indicates the alleged abuse occurred in 1974 in Windsor involving a then-14-year-old victim.
The priest was in Windsor between 1974 and 1979, teaching English and Religion at Assumption College Catholic High School, which was then staffed with Basilian teachers. The victim was in his 30s and at a drug treatment centre when he came forward with the allegations.
Another alleged Windsor incident, dating around 1974, is outlined in a civil court claim against the Basilians, filed in 2017. The alleged victim, who has asked to remain anonymous, alleges when he was nine years old, Fr. Campbell assaulted him.
The civil claim states that Fr. Campbell “fondled the clothed body of the plaintiff,” and “engaged in other sexual activities.” Talach represents the man, and tells CityNews the alleged abuse happened in a field of long grass behind the high school, and that Fr. Campbell encouraged the young boy to join him on a tractor.
In the 1980s, Fr. Campbell was also investigated by the Children’s Aid Society in Sault Ste. Marie. At the time, he was a teacher at St. Mary High School, where he is also alleged to have assaulted Peter Luci.
Luci alleges when he was 15 years old, Fr. Campbell began assaulting him at school. He alleges the assaults eventually escalated to rape, and continued for two years, until he left Sault Ste. Marie. Luci settled a civil case against the Basilians in 2015.
The Children’s Aid allegations were over his behaviour with two other young men. A 1992 report by Fr. Campbell’s mental health team at Southdown stated that the CAS investigation found “nothing inappropriate.”
In Canada, two-thirds of children who are sexually assaulted do not report their assaults to police, according to studies by Justice Canada.
Research on convicted child sex offenders has also shown that offenders often admit to more incidents of assault than are known by police. In their statement, the Basilians note they and other institutions historically thought “the criminal justice system could not pursue uncorroborated complaints of children.”
In his discharge report after his second visit to Southdown, Fr. Campbell’s therapist notes, “To his credit, he admitted more than we had known. He was very direct and honest in talking about all the sexual activities which caused him shame and embarrassment.”
Talach said he’s concerned about the pain these allegations cause victims.
“A lot of the cases I work on in the Catholic scenario are avoidable, they didn’t have to happen,” he said. “They’re stories that didn’t have to be told, litigation that didn’t have to be pursued, if only the Church had removed the priest on first learning of their propensity to abuse.”