July 9, 2011
The diocese of Saskatoon has issued a statement about disclosure of sexual abuse by Fr. Hod Marshall, CSB, a priest who served at St Paul High School in Saskatoon from 1958 to 1961.
STATEMENT from the diocese of Saskatoon July 6, 2011:
In the spring of 2010, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon was advised that the Ontario Provincial Police were investigating allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct of Fr. Hodgson Marshall, a Basilian priest, while he was a teacher in a number of high schools in Ontario.
Marshall also taught at St. Paul’s High School in Saskatoon from August 1958 to August 1961.
As a result of the Ontario Provincial Police investigation, seventeen charges of sexual assault have been brought against Marshall. Now 89 years of age, he pleaded guilty in the courts in Ontario and was sentenced this past June to two years in prison and three years on probation.
The diocese of Saskatoon has recently learned that some former students of Fr. Marshall’s have disclosed that they were sexually assaulted or interfered with by Marshall while attending St. Paul’s High School.
The diocese had no record or knowledge, nor had any suspicion, that criminal and immoral conduct was occurring in the school nor did it suspect Marshall was engaged in hurtful and morally inappropriate acts.
The diocese expresses its profound sadness and regret that young students, now mature adults, were violated by Marshall and have carried this burden with them for many years.
The diocese invites any former student from St. Paul’s High School who was victimized by Fr. Marshall to contact the Catholic Pastoral Centre at 242-1500.
Inappropriate conduct of any kind is neither condoned nor tolerated by the Diocese; and in the situation where the young and very vulnerable are entrusted to those in a position of trust and authority, zero tolerance of any questionable conduct is the norm and standard applicable.
Since 1992, the diocese of Saskatoon has developed and implemented a policy to govern situations where there is or has been allegations of sexual abuse by clergy. That policy is available on the diocesan website at: www.saskatoonrcdiocese.com/privacy_and_policy/
STATEMENT from The Congregation of St. Basil:
On June 7, 2011, Fr. Hod Marshall, a member of the Congregation of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers) pled guilty to the crime of molesting children. He is currently serving his sentence.
Fr. Marshall, who is 89 years old, was removed from public ministry in 1996 at the age of 74 as a result of credible allegations of sexual abuse dating back to the 1950’s. He was moved to a residence for retired and infirm priests in the Toronto area where he resided until his conviction and incarceration.
The Basilian Fathers wish to express our deep shame that one of our members has acted in this way. These criminal acts against children are a violation of our religious vows and are grievously sinful.
In the words of Pope John Paul II: “[…] the sexual abuse of young people is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God” (Address to the Cardinals of the United States and Conference Officers, April 23, 2002).
The Basilian Fathers apologize unreservedly to any persons who have been harmed by Fr. Marshall, to their families and associates. This should never have happened.
We hope and pray that any who have suffered from sexual abuse can experience healing. As such we are committed to providing support for restorative therapy to any victims coming forward in such difficult circumstances.
The Basilian Fathers have had policies in place since 1991 to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct. Information on these policies is available through our congregational website: www.basilian.org.
In 2007, our religious community was certified as a child-safe organization by Praesidium Religious Services in the USA. We will continue to do all we can to ensure that children and other vulnerable persons are safe.
Statement from Bishop Donald Bolen In response to the disclosure from a former St. Paul’s High School student, who advised that he told of abuse by Rev. William (Hod) Marshall to another priest in confession (as reported in the July 16 issue of The Saskatoon Star Phoenix):
I’m deeply saddened in hearing of the person’s experience in the confessional after suffering the abuse. Ideally, the celebration of reconciliation is an encounter with the gentle mercy and forgiveness of God. We cannot know the intent of the priest, nor is it reasonable to judge the actions of someone 50 years ago with the criteria of our understanding of today. In the present context, we would say that what the priest should have done was to listen attentively, offer consolation, assure the person that this was not their fault, and then discern which of the following options is best: encourage the person to report what happened to the police (even indicating that if he was asked, outside of the sacrament, he would be willing to accompany the person to the police station); or invite the penitent to give him the information outside of the confessional, letting them know that they would then report the abuse to the police and the bishop. But the priest is not free to report the incident if he has only received the information within the sacramental celebration, nor (obviously) can he force the penitent to report the incident to parents or the police.
Further statements regarding a disclosure occurring in the confessional during the sacrament, and about the seal of confession:
Francis G. Morrisey, OMI, Catholic Canon Law expert:
Throughout the centuries, the Church has always given primacy to the respect of an individual’s conscience. For this reason, it has imposed absolute secrecy relating to any matter revealed to a priest in the hearing of sacramental confessions. This is the one area in Church law where there are no exceptions. So, in other words, whatever a priest learns in confession, he does not know, nor can he act upon it externally, even if the existing civil law would not recognize this inviolable responsibility.
Priests have been put to death in the past for refusing to reveal sacramental material. Probably the best-known of these is St. John Nepumoceno, who is buried in the Cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic.
The existing canonical rules relating to the seal of confession were placed in legal form in AD 1234 (Pope Gregory IX); they were renewed by Pope Benedict XIV on July 7, 1745, and there has been no change in the legislation since that time.
Pressure to allow for one exception to the rule would mean that, if this were accepted, the seal would no longer be inviolable, and thus the sanctity of the sacrament would be dissipated. This would mean that the faithful would no longer feel secure in approaching a priest in confession.
It is a case of competing values, but the Church gives priority to individual conscience over social order since there are other ways of providing for good social order.
Fr. Stefano Penna, of Newman Theological College, speaking about some of the philosophical or theological and practical elements underlying the importance of the secrecy, and inviolable confidentiality of the Sacrament:
The Seal of the Sacrament is not about protecting people from facing the consequences of their sins; rather it is the mature development of at least fifteen hundred years of practice of how best to empower people - through an encounter with justice and mercy of God - to convert and in surrendering to the "mind of Christ" repair the hurt that they have done to the community. Catholics have a profound believe that all sin affects the community - it is not "between me and God".
We have discovered - and whole professions like law, medicine and counselling have learned from the experience of the Church because their early practitioners were in the main clerics - that the best context for people to actually feel free to admit to the truth of what they have done or has happened to them in their lives is one of utter security, safety and privacy. For the sake of this safe encounter, which to our understanding is a sacred event as a person in the depths of their soul meets with God, Catholic priests are bound by the most absolute Seal of Secrecy neither to divulge nor use any information obtained in the confessional. Priests have died rather than break this seal.
It is also to be remembered that because of the absolute seal of the Sacrament many, many victims of abuse (physical and sexual) actually find the necessary security to be able to talk about what has happened. So often victims live in fear of retribution or - because of a psychological inversion where they experience guilt - a fear of revelation. The Sacramental Seal allows a kind of conversation in which an able confessor is able to encourage and support a person who has so suffered to find ways of seeking help.
So what is the "ideal response of a priest to hearing in the confessional from a child that they have been sexually abused"? The priest should be willing to ask appropriate questions if he suspects that there is a situation of sexual abuse - often children give allusive or euphemistic indications of such an event. The priest must judiciously inquire without creating a false consciousness in the penitent.
If the priest is certain that such an abuse has occurred he must offer a calm and measured response that assures the victim of their complete innocence in this situation (they did not make x "do it"), that God utterly loves them, that this is not God's will, but rather that God wants anyone who has suffered this to be protected and that God and His Church want the person who perpetrates this to be stopped.
The priest can (I think must) speak to the child about there being people with whom it would be safe to talk about this - a teacher, another member of the clergy or parish team, etc. - and hopefully get them to articulate a concrete plan that they can follow. The priest cannot insist that they do something ... but a skilled confessor can certainly move a child along the way to approaching a safe intervener.
In an extreme case, the priest might make the offer to the child of asking the child to see him outside of the Sacrament, but when this happens he must make clear that there is not a celebration of the Sacrament going on and that the priest feels obligated to act upon any information that is received. The priest has to hear all the details again outside of the Sacrament and can only act upon those issues he has heard in this context. This is not an ideal situation and the priest should only do this at the last instance.
When absolving the child the priest must make it completely clear that they have not sinned in this act committed on them.
The priest must pray fervently for this child ... but cannot directly or indirectly do anything about this ... for example, there can be no going and asking the teacher if they have talked to the child recently.