Saturday, Dec 16, 2017
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California sex-abuse claims haunt Adrian College choir director

ADRIAN - Thomas Hodgman's past, including sexual misconduct allegations he now insists are "bogus," has returned.

A California woman, who accused Mr. Hodgman of raping her years ago while he was a choir director at her high school, wants to know why he is now choir director at Adrian College.

Last month, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County, California, agreed to pay out $100 million to settle sexual misconduct lawsuits filed against 44 priests, nuns, and lay personnel - including Mr. Hodgman.

"Until I know that he is held fully accountable to the law, until I know that any child within any distance of him is safe, and until I know that any employer has a full accounting of what he did Well, then perhaps I will stop," said Joelle Casteix, who accuses Mr. Hodgman of raping her at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. The diocese oversees the school.

According to Ms. Casteix, Mr. Hodgman raped her beginning in 1986, impregnating her and passing on a sexually transmitted disease. She said she had an abortion.

She filed a lawsuit against the diocese in 2003, when California temporarily lifted its civil statute of limitations on such cases, clearing the way for hundreds of lawsuits to be filed against California's dioceses.

Many were cases in last month's settlement between the Orange County diocese and 87 victims, including allegations dating to 1936. The settlement, details of which were announced earlier this week, was the largest paid to date by a Catholic diocese to victims of alleged sexual abuse.

Specific amounts awarded to each of the victims have not been disclosed, but Orange County Bishop Tod Brown has said the settlement would make the church "holier, humbler, and healthier," and he vowed to send a letter of apology to each victim. The diocese said Mr. Hodgman is among the defendants.

Ms. Casteix's attorney, John Manly, said he called Adrian College about two years ago to tell them about the accusations against Mr. Hodgman and the then-pending complaint with the Orange County Diocese. He said he offered details and referred them to the diocese for confirmation.

"I called them for the same reason I'd call anybody who has a perpetrator around students," he said. "If you have someone credibly accused of abuse, they shouldn't be teaching. Period."

But a spokesman for the diocese, the Rev. Joseph Fenton, urged caution, saying that the settlement involving Mr. Hodgman's case doesn't prove wrongdoing on his part.

"Under no circumstances does the settlement imply any guilt on anyone's part," he said. "We really can't go into any details" about specific cases.

Reached at his Tecumseh, Mich., home yesterday, Mr. Hodgman declined to comment on the details of the allegations, saying only that the accusations are "bogus" and that his accuser is out to "make my life difficult."

His employer stands behind him.

Adrian College President Stanley Caine described Mr. Hodgman as "an exemplary employee," noting that the school's choir has grown to about 80 students under his direction.

"He's very well-liked by the students," Mr. Caine said, adding that Mr. Hodgman's choirs each year are putting on more performances than choirs before them. "They do very well. The citizens enjoy it."

Mr. Caine said the college did not know about the allegations against Mr. Hodgman when it hired him in 1999, but about two years ago, staff received an anonymous e-mail about the charges. Though he didn't recall specific details, he said the college made several inquiries through an attorney, calling an administrator at Mater Dei High School.

When confronted about the allegations, Mr. Caine said Mr. Hodgman was forthcoming, though the president declined to discuss the specifics of the conversation.

"We could not, through our own investigation, uncover anything that suggested we need to take any further action," Mr. Caine said, noting no criminal charges against Mr. Hodgman had been filed.

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.

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