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Part 2: Priest accused of sex abuse allowed to teach despite 'psycho-sexual tendencies'

Last Updated Oct 21, 2020 at 12:28 pm EDT

CAUTION: This story contains graphic content related to allegations of sexual assault and might be upsetting to some readers.

If you or someone you know are victims of sexual violence, you can contact Crisis Services Canada, a 24/7 hotline, at 1-833-456-4566 or you can find local support through the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres; The Government of Canada has also compiled a list of sexual misconduct support centres. If you are under 18 and need help, contact the Kid’s Help Phone online or at 1-800-668-6868. 

If you’re a Catholic Priest accused of sexually assaulting a child in North America, there’s a good chance you could be sent to a sprawling inpatient complex just north of Toronto many have never heard of.

Southdown Treatment Centre is run by Catholic clergy to treat those in religious life with a long list of diagnoses, including pedophilia. Reports by its staff have shaped the Church’s decisions on how to handle admitted sexual abusers – including whether to allow them to continue to teach and minister to children.

CityNews first became aware of Southdown as part of its investigation into Father Leo Campbell, the now-deceased priest, teacher and principal, who allegedly abused teen boys, including Peter Luci.

Fr. Campbell was a member of the Basilian Fathers of Toronto, whose headquarters are in Toronto. The order’s calling is to teach, and they operate or staff schools and universities across Canada and into the United States and South America.

The Basilians’ personnel file on Fr. Campbell shows that he was sent to Southdown for evaluation twice, each time after allegations arose that he had sexually abused a minor.

The first time he checked in for a 10-day stay was in spring 1980. At the time, Fr. Campbell was working as assistant pastor in Windsor’s Assumption Parish, where he was also responsible for Chaplaincy at Assumption High School.

The incident that led to his stay at Southdown has been redacted from the staff’s report on Fr. Campbell’s time there. However, as part of the priest’s conditions of treatment, the full report was sent to his Basilian superiors at the time.

It says when Fr. Campbell was at Southdown, he admitted to sexually touching a 14-year-old boy in the 1970s. The report reads, “He said that this boy initiated sexual touching with him and that they started to mutually kiss each other and fondle each other’s genitals.”

Southdown’s assessment of Fr. Campbell concluded that he had “psycho-sexual tendencies” and recommended he stay in treatment for three months. However, Fr. Canice Connors, the Catholic psychologist who was Southdown’s executive director, wrote that he did not believe Fr. Campbell needed immediate care.

Southdown letter regarding … by CityNewsToronto

 

He noted in his discharge letter to the Basilians that when Fr. Campbell learned of other priests with pedophilic tendencies, “It helped him to feel he was not a complete oddity but represented a variant of human behaviour.”

Fr. Connors concluded: “He will have to be cautious in his expression of affection for his students. [But there] would be no reason to dissuade him from undertaking his teaching post in the Fall.”

That September, Fr. Campbell would take a teaching post at St. Mary’s College in Sault Ste. Mary, where he met Peter Luci, a timid 15-year-old away from home for the first time.

CityNews reached out to the Basilians multiple times, requesting an on-camera interview with one of their top priests, Vicar General David Katulski. Father Katulski is the Basilians’ contact person for victims of sexual abuse. He’s also the order’s spokesperson, though he never responded to our emails. Instead, the Basilians’ longtime lawyer denied our requests.

Eventually, we sent a detailed list of questions for an official response. The order wouldn’t speak about specific priests or events, including the role Southdown played in the Basilians’ handling of Fr. Campbell. Their lawyer did forward a statement addressing some of our questions about policy and the history of the Basilians’ understanding of sex abuse.

“There has never been any doubt or misunderstanding that sexual abuse of a child is, and always has been, wrong,” the Basilians write. “Where there has been historical misunderstanding by professionals, the Basilians included, is with respect to the impact of sexual abuse upon a child.”

Full response from the Basi… by CityNewsToronto

 

The statement says professionals, including the Basilians, historically believed children wouldn’t remember sexual abuse “and would not be impacted by it.” It goes on to say, in the past, attraction to children wasn’t well understood, which contributed to the thinking that sex abuse “was a moral failing, and could be addressed by deeper spiritual focus and commitment.”

A second stay at Southdown

Spring 1980 wouldn’t be the last time Fr. Campbell checked into Southdown.

In 1992, while Fr. Campbell was principal of Toronto’s prestigious all-boys St. Michael’s College School, he was again evaluated after another historic sexual abuse claim came to light. The details of the allegation are unknown, but it allegedly occurred in 1974 in Windsor and involved a then-14-year-old victim.

Fr. Campbell denied the allegation but remained at Southdown for three months of treatment.

Southdown’s mental health team reported that “Leo experiences sexual arousal or feelings of sexual pleasure, sexual ideation or urges by looking at certain young boys from ages 10 or 11, up to 18. He clearly states that his sexual attraction towards these boys is lost beyond their late teens.”

A Southdown therapist diagnosed Fr. Campbell with ephebophilia — a sexual attraction to teenagers — and concluded he should have no unsupervised contact with early teenage boys.

The therapist told the Basilians, “Leo was able to acknowledge all the sexually abusive or problematic behaviour as identified in the presenting issue. To his credit he admitted more than we had known. He was very direct and honest in talking about all the sexual activities which caused him shame and embarrassment.”

In the time since Fr. Campbell’s first stay at Southdown, the Church and Canadian society at large was forced to acknowledge the prevalence of child sexual abuse. A major scandal in Newfoundland revealed dozens of children who had been harmed by predator priests, forcing the Canadian Church to systemically address the issue for the first time.

“It’s amazing how late we started paying attention to the issue.”

“I was practising pediatrics just at the time when society was becoming aware of the devastating harm of sexual abuse on children,” says Sister Nuala Kenny, a Catholic nun and pediatrician who has been at the forefront of the Canadian Church’s examination of sexual assault scandals for four decades.

“It’s amazing how late we started paying attention to the issue.”

In the late 1980s, the Church convened a committee to review its response to the sex abuse crisis, including why some leaders allowed known offending priests to continue to have access to children. Sr. Kenny was on that committee. It also included a nun who was a former counsellor at Southdown, and a priest who was a former director there.

Their report, From Pain to Hope, was released in 1992, the same year Fr. Campbell was re-admitted to Southdown. The committee’s report is split on whether convicted priests should return to ministry: “Some people refuse even to consider the possibility. Others insist with equal vigour that human beings have immense potential for radical conversion.”

Ultimately, the report recommends Church leaders “decide, in consultation with the treatment centre,” what’s best in each case. “Such a decision must give the protection of children first priority and, correspondingly, evaluate the potential risk constituted by the priest’s eventual return to the ministry.”

The priest would have to recognize he had a problem, and agree to maintain a relatively low profile in the community. His superiors would also have to ensure an effective system of monitoring was available, along with support groups and programs.

As Fr. Campbell prepared to leave Southdown, his therapist began to discuss appropriate next steps for the priest with the Basilians. Though Fr. Campbell was never formally convicted of abuse, she placed him on Southdown’s sexual abuse protocol. Plans for his ongoing care included monthly follow-up calls or letters, sporadic in-person visits, and access to a crisis line, for two years after his discharge.

The therapist said that while Fr. Campbell told therapists he did not have sexual contact with young boys for the past 12 years, “prudence and a consideration for the safety of Leo and any potential victims necessitates removal of him from his position.”

After his Southdown stay, Fr. Campbell initially didn’t return to St. Michael’s College School. Instead he became a chaplain at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon, which was founded by the Basilians. During the application process, the Basilians informed the post-secondary school’s president of Fr. Campbell’s diagnosis, and stated they supported his application.

The president of Southdown also supported his hiring, writing to the head of the college: “There exists little likelihood of him offending in the future. We cannot of course offer any guarantees of future behaviour, but […] the risk involved in his serving at St. Thomas College would be minimal.”

As his therapist noted to the Basilians, Fr. Campbell chose a position “which removes him from the target population.”

However, that would not last.

In 1998, Fr. Campbell was allowed to return St. Michael’s College School, where he oversaw the spiritual guidance of students as the school’s chaplain and taught religion.

A source also tells CityNews the priest also travelled with the private school’s provincial Junior A hockey team, the Buzzers, and was responsible for saying prayers before games.

Fr. Leo Campbell is pictured with the St. Michael’s College Junior A hockey team.

In a statement to CityNews, St. Michael’s College School says, “to the knowledge of the current school administration, the Basilian Fathers of Toronto did not inform the school administration, at that time, of any allegations against Fr. Campbell.”

The school was founded by the Basilian Fathers, whose priests continue to sit on the board of directors, teach and fill senior administrative positions. The school used to have a bursary in Fr. Campbells’ name, but it was removed in 2015, the same year Peter Luci’s lawsuit was settled.

A recent copy of the Basilian’s sex abuse policy states that priests convicted of child sex abuse who want to continue as clergy “will in most cases be under lifetime supervision.”

“Without in any way excusing or minimizing the gravity of the offence, Basilians should treat [an offending priest] as a brother in community,” states the policy. “Like the victim, he has a right to whatever therapeutic and rehabilitative measures may be judged efficacious.”

Priests and psychology

“What has gone largely unremarked in the scandal is that the Church’s embrace of psychology and psychiatry in the 1950s and 1960s presented opportunities to identify and tackle clergy child sexual abuse,” writes U.S. historian Tom McCarthy.

Part of a practice going back decades, Southdown provides Church leaders with “comprehensive clinical and candidate assessments.” Similar facilities also exist in the United States.

“These are strictly funded by the Catholic church, only Catholic clergy and religious [orders] can attend, and most of the staff, or a large percentage of the staff are Catholic clergy or Catholic employees,” notes lawyer Rob Talach, who has been involved in more than 400 cases against Catholic clergy. “So at the end of the day, you have to ask: are they doing what’s best for society or doing what’s best for the Church?”

Psychologically assessing candidates for the priesthood started in the 1940s in the U.S., says McCarthy. By the end of the 1960s, as many as 30 per cent of applicants were being psychologically assessed.

The tests screened applicants for general psychological disorders, not specifically attraction to minors. McCarthy writes that in retrospect, more attention should have been paid to the three-quarters of recent recruits who displayed signs of psycho-sexual immaturity.

A landmark study by criminologists at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, at the City University of New York, examined U.S. Catholic church files from the 1950s to 1980s, and tallied nearly 4,500 accused priests and 11,000 alleged victims.

McCarthy argues that back then, with so many priests’ assessments and treatment files at their disposal, psychologists and the Church missed a chance to connect the dots and identify a systemic issue.

“Throughout the clergy sexual abuse scandal, bishops and church spokesmen have generally taken a ‘Who knew?’ stance. ‘We had no idea that these cases were so numerous.’ ‘What could we have done in any case?’” notes McCarthy. “There is some truth to these statements. But victims, victims’ advocates and the John Jay studies demolished the idea that bishops and religious superiors did not know.”

At the height of the abuse, psychologists were still trying to understand human sexuality, attraction to minors and its consequences, writes McCarthy. As late as the 1970s, he notes child sex abuse was not clearly established to be harmful to victims, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that concern for victims emerged.

Canadian church leaders had started consulting psychological experts in the 1970s on whether clergy who assaulted children could go back to work.

“It has become clear with time that the diagnosis and treatment of offenders was extremely difficult and the incidence of recidivism very high.”

“Unfortunately, the advice they received proved too optimistic,” says Bishop Lionel Gendron, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a 2018 message on child sex abuse policies. “It has become clear with time that the diagnosis and treatment of offenders was extremely difficult and the incidence of recidivism very high.”

Sr. Kenny says the lack of understanding doesn’t excuse Church members who knew of abusers and didn’t stop them: “Even when he didn’t understand the magnitude of the profound harm, he understood that it was a sin.”

In their statement, the Basilians list “some of the things historically not known, misunderstood, or understood wrongly” about child sexual abuse.

“Treatment providers often treated those against whom allegations of sexual abuse had been made and, believing them to be cured, cleared them to return to work.”

It was also thought “over-use or abuse of alcohol led to sexually abusive behaviour (stop the consumption of alcohol and the abuse would stop).”

Now clinicians can better distinguish between situational offenders and those whose sexual orientation is fixed on children, note the Canadian bishops in their 2018 report. The group says Church leaders now have more reliable assessments of priests to rely on.

In the wake of the early “too optimistic” evaluations of offenders, the bishop’s group says “experience has taught everyone how crucial it is to adhere to an attitude of ‘zero tolerance.’”

If you or someone you know are victims of sexual violence, you can contact Crisis Services Canada, a 24/7 hotline, at 1-833-456-4566 or you can find local support through the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres; The Government of Canada has also compiled a list of sexual misconduct support centres. If you are under 18 and need help, contact the Kid’s Help Phone online or at 1-800-668-6868. 

CityNews has created a Facebook group to give survivors of child sexual assault a safe place for them to know they’re not alone.

This is a confidential space in hopes that those who’ve been abused by a Basilian Father or a priest from any Catholic order may want to share their story, either anonymously or with their name.

You can request to join here.

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