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William Hodgson Marshall received a two-year sentence for acts of indecent assault against 16 boys and one woman. (CBC)

Retired priest and teacher William Hodgson Marshall was sentenced Thursday to two years in prison for sexual assaults against boys, dating back to the 1950s.

Marshall pleaded guilty on Wednesday in a Windsor, Ont., court to 17 counts of indecent assault for crimes he committed against 16 children and one woman in Toronto, Windsor, Cambridge and Sudbury.

In his sentencing Justice Lloyd Dean told the victims no sentence will make up or remove the harm they suffered, but he also told them not to let Marshall continue to torment them.

As Marshall was led away in handcuffs, some people in the courtroom clapped. The parent of one of the victims was seen raising his arms as if to cheer.

After his two-year prison term, the 88-year-old will be on probation for three years, the maximum allowable under the law. Marshall will also be on the sex offender registry and will have to provide a DNA sample to police.

Victims get some justice

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The assaults took place between 1952 and 1986. (Assumption College Yearbook, 1955)

Defence lawyer Andrew Bradie said his client acknowledges the terrible crimes he perpetrated and is at peace with the idea of being incarcerated.

"He feels that to some extent if he pays for it by going to jail he'll feel better about it," Bradie said.

Marshall also turned to victims in the courtroom and apologized, but some victims said his words weren't credible.

William Palmer, from Sudbury, said the sentence sends a message to priests that they will be punished for such "evil" acts.

"He's going to jail and that's the fair measure of the court system," said Palmer.

Ken Hills, a victim who now lives in Guelph, said now that the case is complete, he felt a sense of comfort that he could get on with his life. But he was disappointed in the Catholic church.

"There's so many good priests and so many good practising Catholics, and allowing him to go to prison as a Catholic priest is an embarrassment to those people," Hills said, standing with his wife outside the courthouse.

Father Tim Scott, a spokesperson for the Congregation of St. Basil, said there were no plans to see Marshall defrocked.

"Given his very advanced age, once his custodial sentence has ended we will provide a place for [Marshall] to live in seclusion and penance until the end of his life," Scott said.

Scott also said that the church has taken steps to prevent abuse like that perpetrated by Marshall.

"There is a better screening process for people going into the seminary than virtually any other profession right now," Scott said.

He also said clergy participate in ongoing training to identify signs of abuse and to follow guidelines on what to do if they come across cases of abuse.

Marshall had his own demons

Between 1952 and 1986 Marshall molested the victims in their homes, as well as in schools and churches.

The court heard that Marshall was himself a victim of abuse — a teacher put his hands down Marshall's pants when he was nine.

Deputy Crown attorney Walter Costa said Wednesday Marshall should have known what the abuse would do to his victims, and he should have dealt with his demons.

When Marshall swung his chair around to face his victims in court and apologize for "misusing the power he had" on Wednesday, a handful of people walked out.

Randall Gasparini, who was one of Marshall's victims, wanted Marshall to face him and the 16 others he molested. The cases against Marshall were consolidated into one trial to condense the proceedings.

"I'm glad it's come to an end before Father Marshall died, because if he would have [pleaded] not guilty, it would have been every separate person, and he would have been long dead," Gasparini said.