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Adrian College stands by choir chief

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Calling Thomas Hodgman "an exemplary faculty member," Adrian College officials yesterday stood by their choir director, a day after the unintended release of documents that indicate he admitted to having a sexual relationship with a California high school student 16 years ago.

Mr. Hodgman resigned his position at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana., Calif., in 1989 because of the relationship, according to documents obtained by The Blade.

In January, Adrian students learned about the allegations against Mr. Hodgman when the Diocese of Orange County, of which Mater Dei is part, agreed to settle lawsuits with dozens of alleged victims of sexual abuse.

Among those accused was Mr. Hodgman, whom former student Joelle Casteix said had carried on a relationship with her, gotten her pregnant, and passed on a sexually transmitted disease. Ms. Casteix is now an outspoken critic of the Orange County diocese's handling of sex abuse cases and wondered why the man she said was her abuser, Mr. Hodgman, was working as a choir director at the southeast Michigan school.

Mr. Hodgman, who has repeatedly declined to return Blade calls, had initially called the case "bogus." He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Backing Mr. Hodgman, Adrian College officials credited him for the school's growing music program and said he had suffered personal trauma because of the allegations.

As part of the California settlement with victims, the diocese agreed it would not try to block the public release of documents relating to the allegations. But Mr. Hodgman objected, and a judge earlier this week declined to approve the release of the documents specific to his case, sending the case to a higher court.

But some papers were released inadvertently Wednesday, according to the Orange County Register, which yesterday printed parts of the letters. The Blade also obtained copies of the letters.

Three letters, all written on Mater Dei stationary, indicate the school's knowledge of Mr. Hodgman's and Ms. Casteix's relationship. Mr. Hodgman admitted to it when confronted, according to those documents.

"When confronted with this alleged situation, Mr. Hodgman admitted to me that he did have a relationship with this student, prior to her graduation, which included sexual intercourse," wrote Rev. John B. Weling, a Mater Dei official, to the superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Orange County diocese in 1989.

In another, Lucretia Dominguez, another official, said Mr. Hodgman said the relationship was "a big mistake."

Adrian officials were made aware of the allegations in a 2003 e-mail from Ms. Casteix and launched an investigation in the following months, Phil Baither, an attorney for the college, said yesterday.

Mr. Baither said the school also contacted Ms. Casteix's attorney for more information, but received no response. "This isn't something we started three weeks ago," he said.

Adrian officials confronted Mr. Hodgman, but felt comfortable enough with the situation that they decided not to take action, according to a statement from Mr. Baither's office. It described Mr. Hodgman as "an exemplary faculty member and an excellent employee."

"He expressed that these were mistakes which he deeply regrets. Dr. Hodgman has shared this information with students. The administration has also informed all employees," the statement read.

Ms. Casteix's attorney, John Manly, said he spoke to someone from Mr. Baither's office last year, advising the person that he was under court order not to release documents and suggesting that Mr. Baither's office call the diocese offices.

Mr. Manly declined to comment on the documents yesterday, but he called the college's reaction "despicable."

"This is not about academic freedom. This is not about whether Hodgman is a good teacher. It's about holding people accountable," he said.

Claudia Vercellotti, head of the Toledo chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, had accompanied Ms. Casteix to the college recently to speak to officials about the allegations.

"What's painful is that Thomas Hodgman continues to work and live within close proximity of children," she said.

Neither Ms. Dominguez, now listed as an assistant principal on the Web site of Santa Margarita High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, nor Father Weling, now president at Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles, returned calls from The Blade yesterday seeking comment.

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.

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