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.
When Jerry Boyle was in high school, he used to walk Windsor’s Ambassador Bridge and drop rocks into the Detroit River. He would count the seconds it took for the stones to hit the water.
“It could end that quick if I wanted it to. Wouldn’t have to look at him again.”
Thirty years later, Patrick McMahon would walk the very same bridge to the very same spot and contemplate the very same thing. Both were sexually assaulted by Father William Hod Marshall, decades apart.
Marshall was a Catholic priest and educator who worked at Catholic high schools across Canada, starting in the 1950s. At the time, the institutions were run or staffed by the Basilian Fathers, a group of priests whose calling is to teach. Their world headquarters is in Toronto.
In a recorded civil deposition, Marshall admitted to sexually assaulting boys at nearly every posting he had.
Marshall pled guilty in 2011 and was convicted of assaulting 17 children at Ontario schools. He was also separately convicted of assaulting two boys in Saskatchewan. Victims and their lawyers believe the actual number of children he preyed on is much higher.
It’s a reality survivors Boyle and McMahon live with each day. Marshall admitted to abusing them both. They were each young teens when they encountered the priest.
“Being the good Catholic, I was praying he’d go away. I was terrified,” says Boyle, who describes his abuse as “hands in every crevice that was on my body.”
To this day, Boyle and his wife sleep in separate beds, because the 79-year-old wakes up swinging punches into the air. Trying to beat back the memory of a priest who still haunts him.
In the Fall of 1954, Boyle entered Grade 10 at Assumption Catholic High School. A Basilian priest, Marshall, coached his high school basketball team.
“He found a victim he thought he could get away with it and he did for two years,” says Boyle, who says he was assaulted in gym showers, empty classrooms, and Marshall’s own bedroom.
“He called it a workout,” says Boyle who also claims other priests at the school walked into Marshall’s bedroom while he was being abused and walked out again.
“I could see it was another priest – I could see the black cassock – I don’t know who it was. [Marshall] said, ‘This room is busy you’ll have to find another one’,” he recalls. Marshall denied this during a 2012 civil trial.
Feeling like he had no one to turn to, the assaults led a young Boyle to contemplate suicide. He would peer over the railing of the Ambassador Bridge, down the street from his high school where he was being abused.
“Who knows how many children had the same experience, in between us and after us.”
In a sign of just how long the abuse went unchecked, Patrick McMahon, the son of one of Boyle’s high school classmates, also fell victim to Marshall.
“Thirty years after Jerry was standing at the river, I was standing at the river doing the exact same thing for the exact same reason. All because of Hod Marshall and the Basilians who enabled him,” McMahon says. “Who knows how many children had the same experience, in between us and after us.”
McMahon was repeatedly assaulted by Marshall starting when he was about 13 years old. It started in his childhood home, where his devout Catholic family considered the priest an uncle and spiritual mentor.
“He abused me in my own bed at home,” says McMahon. He says his parents’ bedroom shared a wall with his own, and he still has difficulty accepting that he didn’t cry for help.
“All I really had to do was knock on my wall and my parents would be coming to my room to see why I’m knocking on my wall and it all would have stopped,” he says. “If you’re not a victim – I don’t know that you can really understand why you’re just lying there. I am a victim and I’m not sure I can understand.”
McMahon says he was also repeatedly assaulted by Marshall when his family visited the priest at his new posting at St. Mary’s Catholic High School, in Sault Ste. Marie, another institution then run by the Basilians.
“Before I had ever even kissed a girl I had a grown man in my bed, pulling my pants down, whispering in my ear, telling me lies,” McMahon told the priest in court through his victim impact statement. “But, after 30 years, how can I separate who I am from who I could have been?”
Searching for accountability
Before Marshall ever met Boyle or McMahon, the Basilians received multiple allegations of sexual assault against the priest. In his deposition, Marshall said that when confronted, he confessed his sins and was just moved to another Basilian school or parish.
“Marshall was their pit bull. They moved him […] to a free reign of new victims, everywhere he went.”
Boyle does not accept the idea that Church elders at the time didn’t understand the harm being caused by priests who abused children.
“It’s like walking into this park with a pit bull and there’s kids playing and you let the pit bull go and it attacks people. And then you pick up the pit bull from there, relocate it to another park and let ’em go,” he says. “Well, Marshall was their pit bull. They moved him […] to a free reign of new victims, everywhere he went.”
CityNews reached out to the order of priests multiple times, asking for an interview with one of the Basilians’ senior priests, Vicar General David Katulski. Our requests were denied. Eventually, we sent a detailed list of questions for an official response.
The Basilians refused to comment on Marshall or his victims, but their lawyer did forward a statement. In it, they admitted that institutions, including their own, historically thought 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,” the Basilians write.
Sister Nuala Kenny, a Catholic nun and pediatrician who specializes in treating victims of abuse, says historically, the Church and society at large had a poor understanding of the lifelong harm that child sexual abuse caused victims.
However, all clergy would have known the sinfulness of perpetrating or enabling abuse.
“One of our biggest problems has been those who have not been directly involved in the abuse but who have maintained the silence,” she says. “They are enablers of what happened.”
Over her 40-year career, Sr. Kenny has served on Church commissions and authored books, calling on the institution to make cultural shifts to prevent abuse. She believes the Church needs to become less hierarchical, more open to the communities it serves and less concerned about protecting its own reputation.
In their statement, 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 has classes on conduct and boundaries for priests.
The Basilians settled lawsuits with both Boyle and McMahon out of court. Marshall died at age 92 in 2014. Before he died, he voluntarily gave up his priesthood.
McMahon says his life’s purpose now is a quest for justice.
“I want to see the Church accept some accountability. I would like to see just once say, ‘Hey this guy, wasn’t the abuser but he moved all these abusers all around’,” he says. “I want to see that person held to account. Ultimately, I want to see criminal charges pursued against these people.”
UPDATE: On Oct. 18, day six of CityNews’s investigative series, a spokesperson for the Basilian Fathers sent a second statement on behalf of Superior General Fr. Kevin Storey. It reads in part: “Our responsibility to monitor and protect our community is one that we shoulder with the utmost importance. Victims of clerical abuse have been failed in this respect. As a Congregation, we have taken meaningful steps to help prevent such horrific actions from taking place in the future. […] We feel deep sorrow for those who have had their inherent dignity offended and we encourage all victims to let us know how we can help them move forward through a personal apology, counseling and/or financial reparation. We promise to do better, and we are truly sorry.” The full statement is posted below:
Over these last several months, the Basilian Fathers have been reminded of heartbreaking accounts of sexual abuse faced by minors. As a Congregation that has built communities based on goodness, discipline and knowledge, we unreservedly apologize for the trauma and destruction that this has caused.
Our responsibility to monitor and protect our community is one that we shoulder with the utmost importance. Victims of clerical abuse have been failed in this respect. As a Congregation, we have taken meaningful steps to help prevent such horrific actions from taking place in the future.
For instance, since 1992 all candidates for the Basilian Fathers must pass psychological screening by independent assessors and have annual reviews and growth plans. Since 2006, the Basilian Fathers have been audited by an independent third-party organization, Praesidium, to ensure that we provide safe environments. As part of our accreditation, every Basilian must engage in ongoing education regarding healthy boundaries as well as recognizing signs when colleagues are not following proper protocols.
We cooperate fully in all legal investigations when allegations of impropriety are brought forward. An individual who faces an allegation cannot function as a priest while an investigation is taking place. In addition to these steps, a review board of lay professionals is called upon after inappropriate behaviour is identified to determine future steps in relation to the individual involved.
We acknowledge that allegations of this nature hurt the position of trust that we seek to maintain with our community and hope that our students, parishioners, colleagues, family, and friends give us the opportunity to reconcile and regain their trust.
We feel deep sorrow for those who have had their inherent dignity offended and we encourage all victims to let us know how we can help them move forward through a personal apology, counseling and/or financial reparation. We promise to do better, and we are truly sorry.
Fr. Kevin Storey, CSB
Superior General of the Basilian Fathers