He has been dead for more than five years, but when a convicted pedophile priest makes a sudden appearance in a documentary about his crimes, it's like a bolt of lightning.
By now, most people in Sudbury are familiar with the crimes of Fr. William Hodgson Marshall, a priest who molested young boys at St. Charles College in the late 1960s and early 1970s before moving on to prey on more children in other places.
The public has never heard Marshall directly talking about his crimes. A new TVO documentary entitled Prey changes that, showing him for the first time responding to questions from the lawyer representing his victims. Prey will be screened at Cinefest this year.
Director Matt Gallagher's film focuses on the 2018 lawsuit by Rod McLeod, one of Marshall's victims in Sudbury who was awarded $2.57 million for the abuse he suffered – and for the Basilian Fathers of Toronto for allowing it to continue.
Marshall was convicted in 2011 of abusing 17 students at schools over a 38-year period. He worked in Rochester, Toronto, Windsor, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, and was reported a total of six times over his career but continued in his role as a priest and teacher. He was also found guilty of abusing children in Saskatchewan.
Before he died in 2014, he gave a video deposition that has never been seen in public.
Lawyer Rob Talach, known as the 'priest hunter' for his pursuit of criminal clergy who have abused children, has Marshall admit he can't remember all students he abused at St. Charles.
“You knew it was a breach of the 10 Commandments?” Talach asks.
“Yes,” the frail and haggard looking Marshall casually responds.
“You knew it was a breach of your vow of chastity and celibacy?”
“You knew it was wrong.”
Marshall pauses, before responding “Yes.”
It's a chilling moment. Marshall speaks matter of factly and makes no attempt to apologize or express regret about his actions.
McLeod chose to go ahead with the lawsuit, rebuffing settlement offers from the Basilians, so details of his case could come to light.
“Prey documents the courtroom drama and delves into the personal stories of many of those present,” the filmmaker says in his synopsis of the movie. “This trial was not about guilt or innocence, but about how much money the church should pay in compensation for the devastating fallout from the abuse.
“More importantly for Rod, it was about exposing the truth of how and why the sexual abuse of children could go on for so long without the church stopping it.”
The movie premiered at Hot Docs on April 26 – the exact one-year anniversary of the end of the lawsuit. In a news release on the day of the ruling, Talach said the reports of sexual abuse of boys started in 1947, occurred twice in the 1950s, twice in the 1970s and again in 1989 around the time of his retirement from teaching.
“A further report in 1996 was the most disturbing,” the release said. “Father Marshall, then ministering on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, ultimately admitted to his Basilian superiors that he had abused upwards of almost 90 boys over his career. The Basilian response was limited, with no effort at outreach to the boys, no involvement of police and no publication of the fact that one of their own had left such a wake of devastation across the land.”
Gallagher, McLeod and other victims of Marshall will be in Sudbury on Thursday for a Cinefest media conference unveiling details of this year's festival.