The Sudbury Star
Monday, May 7, 2018 2:10:23 EDT AM
Sexual abuse victim Denis Beland, right, makes a point as lawyer Rob Talach looks on during a press conference in Sudbury in 2012. (John Lappa/Sudbury Star file photo)
A settlement reached last week closes a chapter in the long saga of a Sudbury sex predator and numerous male victims.
But whether it is the final chapter remains to be seen.
On Monday Denis Beland, 61, accepted just shy of $1 million in a pre-trial agreement concerning the abuse he suffered as a youth at the hands of Father William Marshall, who taught at St. Charles College high school in Sudbury between 1961 and 1979.
Beland is one of at least seven known Sudbury victims of the priest and the last of the St. Charles students seeking compensation through civil suits.
Had an agreement not been reached on Monday, the case would have gone to a jury trial on May 14.
Just four days earlier, another Sudbury victim, Rod MacLeod, had been awarded $2.5 million — an unprecedented payout for priest abuse that included $500,000 in punitive damages for negligence on the part of the church — in a jury trial in Toronto.
That almost certainly factored into the deal reached between the Basilian Fathers of Toronto, who operated the St. Charles school, and the last Marshall litigant, said lawyer Rob Talach, who represented both McLeod and Beland.
“I think they recognized there was a good shot that a trial would replicate what happened in Toronto,” he said.
MacLeod’s case was heard in Toronto because he’s lived there most of his adult life, said Talach, and it’s also the base for the Catholic order that oversaw the Sudbury school.
Beland, who continues to live in Sudbury, had his case being heard locally.
The former St. Charles pupil said he was caught off guard, to some extent, when presented with the offer of $950,000 at the pre-trial hearing.
“I wasn’t prepared for it and hadn’t really thought of how I might feel, because I was still stuck in all the details,” he said. “The civil action took seven years, and it was almost surreal because I was flashing back to all the denials (on the part of the Basilian order) since 1970, but now they were in agreement.”
He said the monetary amount was acceptable to him but he felt numb for several hours afterward.
“I didn’t feel exhilaration or satisfaction,” he said. “But I did feel some vindication. And 24 hours later I felt more strongly that this is a win, and that maybe the public will believe us as victims.”
Numerous victims came forward earlier and Marshall was criminally convicted in 2011 of abusing 17 males, most of them adolescents, over his career as an educator and priest in Sudbury, Windsor and Sault Ste. Marie.
That earned him a two-year sentence, but Beland, who was just 12 when Marshall began molesting him, said the 2011 trial didn’t really provide that much relief for the victims.
“He entered a plea, so there was no trial, as such, and we weren’t really able to tell our story and say what happened,” he said. “The civil action wasn’t primarily about money, but more to restore our credibility and integrity.”
He said when he first brought allegations against Marshall, the Basilians — and later, their lawyers — characterized him as “crazy, or a derelict, or whatever words they use to defeat you.”
But last week he said he “detected some genuine sorrow” in the countenance of the Basilian representative at the hearing. That helped, as did the tangible acknowledgement of his suffering through the financial award.
“It’s not all about money,” he said. “A big part of it is recouping your dignity, your soul. But what this means is I can live out my last days in dignity without being financially strapped.”
Beland was expelled from St. Charles at the age of 14 after complaining to the principal about the abuse he — and other boys — had suffered over past couple of years.
He said Marshall, who passed away a few years ago, was “a very sophisticated and systematic predator,” abusing some boys in the showers, others in a room used for math tutoring, and some in off-campus settings. “I was one of his office people,” he said.
Beland’s father had passed away just before he started in Grade 9 at St. Charles, and Marshall used that as a pretence for private sessions of supposed support.
The “counselling,” however, took the form of unwanted touching. “He also passed himself off as a medical expert, knowing all about muscles and all this stuff, but it was just his way to get in your pants.”
At one point the pedophile launched a contest to raise money for a mission in Africa, and Beland, a go-getter and still a prepubescent boy, was determined to win the challenge.
“I went door to door selling keychains and statues of St. Christopher that you could suction-cup to the dashboard,” he said. “But he has all the gear, so whenever I need more of this stuff, I have to go to him — and I was a target every time I did that. It put me in his office for one day every week for a year.”
Beland in fact won the fundraising contest — it earned him a St. Christopher medallion — but it came at the cost of multiple gropings.
That abuse eventually caught up with him, although not immediately. He was able to finish high school, attend university, get married, get a job, have kids.
In his mid-30s, however, he started to get sick. “Suddenly I had this unexplained weight loss,” he said. “I’m eating, but I’m two holes in my belt thinner. Physicians were checking for worms, bacteria. As it turns out, it’s this old affair coming back up, and it’s all a byproduct of stress.”
He said the same thing happened with many of the other victims he knows. “Half the Sudbury victims had that delayed reaction.”
Beland sought help for PTSD and “spent over 500 hours in counselling.” For the latter part of his adulthood and years approaching retirement, he’s been on a private disability pension.
While he obviously has little pity for his abuser — as a 17-year-old, he confronted Marshall at a football game and punched him in the face — Beland holds nearly as much anger (or disappointment, at least) regarding those who protected the priest.
After Beland was expelled from St. Charles, the principal came to his home and “told my mother I was mentally ill and making wild allegations about Father Marshall,” he said. “He was wagging his finger at her, and told her, ‘I came here to provide you with information; it’s not a negotiation.’ ”
He said Marshall spent 19 years in Sudbury altogether, and during that time there were “34 fellow priests who taught with him, and 35 lay teachers — 69 teachers who surely received complaints about him. I call them the invertebrates, because none would step up and report it to the school board or police.”
The frightening part of the Marshall saga is even though Beland is the last of the litigants to pursue compensation, there are likely many more adult men in Sudbury who were victimized by the priest, but simply aren’t comfortable coming forward.
“When confronted in 1996, Marshall conceded he abused two to three boys a year,” said Talach, the lawyer. “He had a career from the 1950s to 1979, when he was caught, and he was at St. Charles for 17 years. So if you do the math, you have to wonder if this is really the end of the chapter, or the tip of the iceberg.”
Beland said he sat down with a former classmate and fellow victim to look through a yearbook, and the two were able to pick out dozens of other likely victims, based on conversations they remember having with them in the past.
“We made a list and at one point we had 45 guys picked who said they’d been molested,” he said. “But some are married and haven’t told their wives, or feel it would affect their career, and don’t need the money. I get that, and understand that. I just wish that in 1970 more of us had been believed, because we could have saved a pile of guys.”