The snow squeaked beneath the priest’s boots as he twisted out of a Sudbury taxi and walked to the front door of high school teacher Ted Holland’s house. Christmas, one of the most joyous celebrations for Roman Catholics, was only a week away, but the noon meeting between the two men in 1998 wasn’t exactly celebratory.
Holland recalls that the priest, Rev. Bill Irwin, had flown from Toronto for a face-to-face visit, but Holland says it was never made clear to him why. The Basilian priest walked in then took a cheque out of his briefcase.
It was for $21,000. Holland would later call it “hush money.”
Holland insisted he didn’t want the cheque and wouldn’t sue the religious order. He only wanted an apology for being molested in Grade 9 at St. Charles College, the local Catholic all-boys school. The alleged perpetrator was his teacher and basketball coach, Rev. William Hodgson “Hod” Marshall. Holland had complained about the abuse to Sudbury police about five months earlier, to no avail.
Irwin repeated that the money was for him. Holland said he’d think about it. The cleric left the phone number of a high-profile Toronto legal firm to call once the former altar boy had made a decision.
“Then he said ‘Can I have a glass of water?’ and I gave him a glass of water,” says Holland, now 55.
“He called a taxi and after 15 minutes of uncomfortable waiting — talking about nothing in particular, the weather — he left.”
The entire meeting took about half an hour.
Twelve years later, that brief encounter provides a window into how a group within the Roman Catholic Church, the Congregation of St. Basil, responded to allegations of sexual abuse by one of its priests — the same priest who’s now facing criminal charges for molesting four boys in Windsor.
As hard questions are being asked about the current sex abuse scandals scorching the Catholic Church and its spiritual leader, Pope Benedict XVI — such as who knew what, and when — the voluntary payment to Holland also raises questions.
Did the Congregation of St. Basil, which a year later upped its offer to Holland to $30,000, try to buy his silence about a rogue priest who’d been sent to a professional treatment centre in the United States in 1996?