wdr-220-father-william-hodgson-marshall-assumption-college-yearbook-1955

William Hodgson Marshall, 88, pleaded guilty to 17 charges of indecent assault related to crimes dating back to the 1950s. (Assumption College Yearbook, 1955)

Former priest and teacher William Hodgson Marshall pleaded guilty in a Windsor, Ont., court to 17 sex assault charges for crimes he committed against children in Toronto, Windsor, and Sudbury dating back to the 1950s.

The victims include six from Windsor, six from Sudbury and one from Cambridge. Another four assaults took place in Toronto. The assaults occured over more than three decades, starting in 1952.

Marshall, 88, faced charges of indecent assault perpetrated on 16 boys and one woman, related to acts of fondling, fellatio, and masturbation.

Before the court proceedings started, Marshall swung his chair around and stared at the audience, including some of his victims.

"He was always very smug, even in the old days, but that sort of shocked me a bit," said Randall Gasparini, who was abused by Marshall in Sudbury.

Assaults have lingering effects: victims

Marshall, known as "Father Hod", was originally charged with a single count of sexual assault in May of 2010. Since then, 16 more victims have come forward. The charges were all moved to Windsor, the centre of the original investigation, in order to speed up the proceedings against Marshall.

In court, some victims broke down in tears on Wednesday they read impact statements about failed marriages, alcohol abuse and suicide attempts.

The court heard that the abuse took place in schools where Marshall taught and in churches he visited. In some cases, Marshall was a family friend who slept over and molested kids in their homes.

Marshall's victims said they were tormented for as long as 58 years,

Some Sudbury students called Marshall by the nickname "happy hands Marshall", and over the years, victims were told that no one would believe them if they came forward against him.

One victim went to police in 1994 only to be told that it would be his word against Marshall's. Another victim was kicked out of school when he came forward.

One even failed grade 11 on purpose so he could change schools and get away from Marshall.

Thomas Habrer, a victim from Windsor, said he's ready to move on.

"It's over with. I don't have to think about it anymore. It's that simple," said Habrer.

Another victim even went so far as to forgive Marshall in his impact statement.

"By me forgiving him, it just gets me out of the bind of reliving it and reliving it, because that was my problem," said William Palmer, who was abused in Sudbury.

Some victims have left the Catholic church and are demanding written, hand-delivered letters of apology from Marshall. Others never want to see him again.

Marshall's history

Between 1950 and 1954 Marshall taught and coached basketball at St. Michael's College in Toronto.

From 1955 to 1957 he taught at Windsor's Assumption College, then returned to St. Michael's.

During the 1960s and 1970s Marshall moved between several Canadian cities, including Saskatoon, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.

In 1985, Marshall was the first principal of the newly-built Holy Names Catholic High School in Windsor, where he stayed until 1989.

Marshall lives in a Toronto retirement home.

Church offers apology

The Congregation of St. Basil issued a statement after the guilty pleas, saying that Marshall was removed from the public ministry in 1996 at the age of 74 as a result of "credible allegations of sexual abuse."

The Basilian Fathers moved Marshall to a "residence for retired and infirm priests" in the Toronto area.

Father Tim Scott, spokesperson for the Congregation of St. Basil, apologized to those who had been harmed by Marshall.

"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," said Scott.

"We hope and pray that any who have suffered from sexual abuse can experience healing."

Scott said the church was committed to provide help to any victims that come forward.