Ex-principal accused of sex abuse

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Alleged victim suing school board and Basilian Fathers

The Sault Star

30 November 2011

By Rachel Punch

A former St. Mary’s College student says he has struggled through decades of shame, depression and addiction in the wake of sexual abuse he alleges occurred at the hand of the late Rev. Leo Campbell at the school in the 1980s.

“Unfortunately, I do have memories, almost like snapshots of a movie,” said Peter Luci. “I’ll be sleeping and it will come almost like a little short film. I’ll wake up screaming or in a sweat.

“My relationships have suffered, my self-esteem. I still have nightmares,” he said. “Every aspect of my life has been affected.

“I can’t put a price on what it’s done or what I could have contributed to society instead of what I’ve cost society.”

Luci, now 46, is suing the Congregation of St. Basil and the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board over the allegations, none of which have been proven in court. The total amount of his claim is more than $1.1 million, plus legal costs.

“It’s a requirement of the legal system that we put the maximum we are seeking in each category,” said Luci’s lawyer, Rob Talach. “The reality is that most cases of sexual abuse by clergy resolve in the $100,000-to-$200,000 range, with a few exceptions.”

Luci did not tell anyone about the allegations for years. He said he was ashamed.

“Not only in the eyes of my father, but the eyes of anyone who knew, I thought they would think I was damaged goods,” Luci said.

He eventually told his wife about the allegations about seven years ago. This led Luci to therapy and a journey of healing.

“You can’t keep this inside because it eats you from the inside out. That’s what was happening to me,” Luci said. “When you speak up and you have your voice heard, that empowers you … I’ve come to a place where I have a little bit of peace.”

The therapy also led to the disclosure of the allegations to the Congregation of St. Basil, of which Campbell was a member, in January 2008.

The Basilians immediately pulled Campbell from his ministry at a Toronto church, said the religious order’s vicar-general David Katulski.

“We then began interviews with Mr. Luci and with Father Campbell to find out what the matters of the case were all about,” Katulski said.

“Father Campbell did not remember the plaintiff and he denied ever having abused the plaintiff,” states the Basilian’s statement of defence.

The Basilians have never received any complaints of sexual assault allegations involving Campbell before or after Luci came forward, Katulski said.

Days after being removed from his Toronto church, Campbell died at the age of 68. Katulski said he had a heart attack.

Despite Campbell’s denial of the allegations, the Basilians agreed to pay for Luci’s therapy.

“It is still our policy as a community that when someone is in distress over matters such as this that we help them as best we can,” Katulski said.

As far as Talach knows, Campbell was never charged criminally.

“We were going to report it to the police … but he passed away,” Luci said.

Luci was a social outcast dealing with family problems when he attended St. Mary’s in 1980.

His immediate family was dispersed in Italy and Toronto and he was living in the Sault with his grandmother and two brothers.

“I was vulnerable. I was new to the school,” Luci said.

Campbell took Luci, who was about 14, under his wing.

“He was a fun guy. He was a jolly guy. He was someone that you would take an easy liking to,” Luci said. “I was brought up Roman Catholic and I had this belief and this … complete and utter trust that these people would never harm me, that they were there to help me. These are God’s people.”

He said that trust was violated by Campbell in the springtime in the early ’80s when Campbell took him and three other boys on a camping trip.

“We were alone in the woods, four boys and Father Campbell,” Luci said.

Luci said the abuse — which started with fondling and escalated to rape — began on that camping trip and continued at the school. It ended when Luci moved to Toronto after spending about a year and a half at St. Mary’s, he said.

“He was an older man in a position of authority, trust and power and he took full advantage,” Luci said.

The Basilian priests established St. Mary’s in 1956. The school was owned and operated by the board, which was called Sault Ste. Marie District Roman Catholic Separate School Board at the time the alleged abuse took place.

Luci’s statement of claim states the Basilians and the board were negligent in hiring and supervising Campbell and failed in their duty to protect Luci.

“The Basilians owned him, made him, supervised him … but he was an employee of the school board while he was at St. Mary’s … They were responsible for his conduct as a teacher,” said Talach, of the London, Ont., firm Ledroit Beckett. The firm specializes in litigation and has represented several sexual assault victims in the past.

Jack Stadnyk, director of education at Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board, said he could not comment on the lawsuit at this time.

“It’s still before the courts, so it’s inappropriate for me to be making comment. I really can’t,” Stadnyk said.

The board’s statement of defence states all of Campbell’s references when he was hired reported him to be an exemplary teacher. He had experience teaching at schools in Alberta, Windsor, Ont., Detroit, and Islington, Ont.

“None of these schools reported any incidents, concerns or difficulties associated with Father Campbell,” the board’s statement of defence reads.

It goes on to state “the school board denies at any material time, it was aware or made aware by the plaintiff or indeed of any other complaint respecting Father Campbell.” The board stated it was not aware of the allegations made by Luci.

“The school board denies any involvement in the alleged camping trips and … (any trips) were not conducted as part of Father Campbell’s activities as a teacher,” the statement reads.

Luci said he decided to pursue his claim because he wants to institute change.

“I was brought up Roman Catholic. I just felt that they are not taking any responsibility for anything,” Luci said. “It was kind of a grandiose idea, but (I came forward) to try to get them to change or take responsibility.”

Talach said Catholic entities such as the Basilians are not supporting victims as much as they support the perpetrators.

“You talk the talk and you walk the walk. The Basilians, I think, like other Catholic entities right now, are getting better at talking the talk,” said Talach. “Let’s look at how they walk the walk.”

Talach used the example of Rev. William Hodgson Marshall. In June, the 88-year-old was sentenced to two years in prison after he pleaded guilty to 17 counts of indecent assault. From 1953 on, Marshall assaulted 17 victims in the Sudbury, Toronto and Windsor areas. None of the victims in the criminal case attended St. Mary’s in Sault Ste. Marie, where Marshall worked for part of his career.

Marshall was principal at St. Mary’s College in Sault Ste. Marie when Campbell started teaching there. Campbell later replaced Marshall as principal in 1985.

“The Basilians have taken the public position that they will not take any steps to defrock Marshall, even though he is convicted of over a dozen counts of (indecent) assault,” Talach said. “They are going to accept him back into (a retirement facility) when he finishes his prison sentence.”

Rev. Timothy Scott, a spokesperson for the Basilians, told The Windsor Star in August they had no plans to defrock Marshall. Scott also said once Marshall completes his sentence, he will be provided a place to live out his remaining days.

Katulski would not comment when asked about this issue.

“I don’t think I’m in a position to answer that question at this time,” he said, adding it will be “up to the courts to determine what they would consider a safe place” for Marshall to live after he is released from prison.

Taking steps such as defrocking priests convicted of sexual crimes and stopping financial support are important to victims, Talach said.

“They are not supporting victims like they should be. That infuriates people,” he said. “Had Campbell lived, we probably would have seen the same pattern of support.”

In addition to spurring change, Luci hopes his story encourages other victims of sexual abuse to stop their silence.

“It’s very important that people do come forward and speak up. I know how difficult it is, but I think that the benefits greatly outweigh the difficulty of doing it,” he said.

Luci called sexual assault a blight on society.

“It shouldn’t happen. Not ever to any children,” Luci said. “These are our most precious resources and to me, that there isn’t more outrage and there isn’t more being done, I don’t get it,” he said.

“This is a huge problem in society that I just don’t think gets its share of resources and respect and it’s probably because it deals with a taboo subject,” Talach said.

Luci’s claim, which was filed in September 2009, is still before the courts. It could be another couple of years before it is resolved, Talach said.

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11 Responses to Ex-principal accused of sex abuse

  1. Sylvia says:

    Good for you Peter for speaking out. Good for you!!! That took courage, and, you did it!

    And the Baslians deny any other complaints about Campbell?

    All I can say is there were “stories” on the go about Leo Campbell years ago. I’m hard pressed to understand how they never reached the ears of the Basilians.

  2. Lindsay O'Handley says:

    I was assaulted in Guelph in the 60’s by Campbell.

  3. Sylvia says:

    I am so very sorry to hear that Lindsay, but I am also happy that you are speaking out.

    That would have been before he was a priest? is that right?

  4. Lindsay O'Handley says:

    Yes, that’s correct.

  5. Jordan Lannan says:

    I knew Father Leo Campbell most of my life, including when I was a child and teenager (I was 24 when he passed away,) and I would just like to add to this by saying that I never experienced anything whatsoever like that. I would like my voice to be heard as well. In my first-hand experience, and in the experience of others I know, he was a helpful, kind, and inclusive man who was there for his friends, family and community. In my experience, he was a good friend and a true priest, and I honestly cannot picture anything like that happening with him – not in my wildest imagination. I wasn’t there, but I just wanted my voice to be heard as well. I wish only love and health for the claimants, and I hope that the priority here is truth and nothing else…

    • PJ says:

      Now you see just how insidious a pervert collar can be. He chose his prey carefully and surrounded himself with the blinded who would defend him. This is how those collars work. And as for your final statement, of course it’s the truth we are after…no one would want to go through the hell we go through at the hands of these perverts. We want justice and if litigation helps bring that church to the realization that they need to defrock all those perverts and support their victims instead of the criminal, then so be it.

  6. Anonomys says:

    I was fondled by Father Marshall and Father Campbell in grade 9 at St. Mary’s College in Sault Ste. Marie in 1980. I’m sure there were others.

  7. Sylvia says:

    Have you considered going to police Anonomys? Father Campbell is dead, but Hod Marshall is still alive.

    And yes, there were others.

    Patrick McMahon was molested by Hod Marshall in the Soo. Patrick makes reference to that in his Victim Impact Statement. There were no charges laid in relation to the abuse by Hod in the residence at St. Mary’s College Soo, but Patrick was definitely abused there, and, as you will read in his VIS, after Hod abused him Patrick heard Hod go down the hall and into a room and molest another boy.

    There was always the belief held by many that there were victims in the Soo, and it was always a puzzle as to why none had come forward. And there you are.

    I am so sorry the pair got their dirty hands on you, but so glad you are speaking out.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  8. anonymous says:

    i attended assumption high school in the late 70s…father leo campbell fondling some of the young male students was the rumour..he was moved abruptly out of town..

  9. Anonymous says:

    I think deep down, we all (at St. Mary’s College) knew that there was something wrong with Campbell. Whether it was his creepy behind the back hugs, or his purposeless walks by the boys change rooms that “coincidentally” occurred right after gym class (when we were changing), everyone I knew thought there was something very wrong with this man.

    One of my friends told me that he had been transferred from another province because he was caught alone doing something sexual with a boy. I thought it was just a rumor and dismissed it. He was a priest after-all, and rumors were just that – rumors. I guess there was something to those rumors after-all.

    I could easily, easily have been one of the boys that was abused. Campbell and Marshall had taken me under their wings. I was an altar boy at churches they ministered to, I was one of the only students at my elementary school to attend St. Mary’s. I came from a somewhat broken home. I had seriously thought about asking the priests to stay at their residence for a couple of weeks because I was having problems at home. Campbell would ask me and some of the other boys to hand out gifts to poor kids around Christmas time. The drive home alone with him was creepy. He didn’t say or do anything sexual, but I knew. There was just something about him.

    Marshall and Campbell would both have weekly meetings with me to check on my academic progress. Afterwards, I would receive one of their special hugs. Marshall’s seemed fairly normal compared to Campbell. Anyone that went to St. Mary’s knows exactly the kind of hug I’m talking about. These hugs were somewhere between being fraternal and sexual at once (but what kind of brother hugs you from behind).

    I feel terrible for the victims of these two creeps. Good for them for making this public.

    I have a question for all of the teachers that worked at St. Mary’s: when you saw Campbell giving students one of his famous hugs in the hallway, what did you do about it? When you saw him walking past the change rooms while we were changing, what did you do about it?

    During Frosh week in grade 9, I and many others witnessed Marshall punch out (and I mean punch out) a student for making a grade 9 student carry him on his back. Teachers saw this. If you were one of those teachers, what did you do about this? We were kids. What could we to do about it? If Father Marshall punched out a fellow student for a silly frosh week prank, what would an abused student have to experience if he reported sexual abuse? Maybe if Campbell and Marshall knew that other adults were doing something about this, they would have thought twice about what they did.

    You’ve got to hand it to St. Mary’s though, they had great administrators. You couldn’t get away with anything there. They were on top of us anytime we broke the rules (I once got pushed and shoved by a grade 10 teacher for missing a lay-up in gym class). But they didn’t see when Campbell was giving a student one of his creepy hugs, or when Marshall was punching out a student?

    They used to drill it home: we were special, we were “St. Mary’s Men”. Teachers and administrators, were you?

    • Geenda says:

      Anonymous… you are so right! These wolves would never gave gotten away with so many crimes against so many children without complicity, on so many levels. So many knew but turned a blind eye, or blamed the victims, or were afraid to speak out… so few had the courage of their convictions. Just look at Larry Nassar the gymnastics doctor. Those little girls TOLD people, they told police, parents, other coaches.. but NO ONE acted I am grateful that those days are over…and that people are coming forward to report abuse on unprecedented levels..it’s been a long time coming and we’re just getting started….

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