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Sexual misconduct allegations against Adrian professor resurface

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ADRIAN — A woman who says she was sexually abused by Adrian College’s choir director during the 1980s, when he was a teacher at a Catholic high school in California, is renewing her push to have him fired in the wake of a string of sexual-misconduct allegations against prominent figures nationwide.

Joelle Casteix, now 47, says Thomas Hodgman impregnated her and gave her a sexually transmitted disease when she was a teenager at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana., Calif. Documents released to news outlets about a decade ago following a Diocese of Orange County settlement with dozens of alleged sexual-abuse victims show Mr. Hodgman admitted to school officials he had sex with two teenage students.

He resigned his position in 1989 because of the relationship, and has worked at Adrian College since 1999.

Mr. Hodgman, in a statement emailed to The Blade Friday, claimed the documents are “false and unofficial.” Adrian College has long stood by him, calling him "an exemplary faculty member" in 2005 when the documents were first released.

HODGMAN REPORTS FROM 2005: Adrian College stands by choir chiefAdrian man fights release of sex abuse documentsRelease of records about teacher denied

On Friday, in response to questions by The Blade, Adrian College took a different position, writing that after a 2003 investigation of its own, it “confirmed that Dr. Hodgman engaged in inappropriate behavior while teaching in a California high school approximately 30 years ago.”

But, the college wrote, it determined it could take no action against him because he was a tenured professor and member of the Adrian College Faculty Union. 

“In the 14 years since the college first learned of this incident, it has closely observed Dr. Hodgman’s activities and behavior at the college,” the statement read. “This heightened scrutiny has not revealed any misconduct or additional allegations. ... Given the circumstances in Dr. Hodgman’s case including the remoteness of the misconduct, the absence of any additional evidence of misconduct while at Adrian College, and the contractual obligations that the college must follow, the college will take no action at this time concerning Dr. Hodgman’s employment.”

Read Mr. Hodgman’s full statement

A candlelight vigil is scheduled for the evening of Nov. 20 at Adrian College in support of Ms. Casteix, who posted an open letter on Facebook addressed to Adrian College President Jeffrey Docking last week in the wake of allegations made against Harvey Weinstein and Anthony Weiner.

“I want Adrian College to do the right thing,” she said in an interview with The Blade. “That means they can take a stand for victims and they need to remove Thomas Hodgman from his post.”

Ms. Casteix says she was 15 when the abuse started. She filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Orange County 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 Catholic dioceses in the state.

She received $1.6 million, part of a $100 million settlement with dozens of victims, the largest payment at the time by a Catholic diocese to victims of alleged sexual abuse.

As part of the 2005 settlement, the diocese agreed it would not try to block the release of documents relating to the allegations. But Mr. Hodgman objected, and a judge 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 in 2005, according to the Orange County Register, which printed parts of the letters. The Blade also obtained copies of the letters. Ms. Casteix has published the letters online.

View the letters published by Ms. Casteix

The letters, 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.

In 2005, Adrian College officials said they were made aware of the allegations in a 2003 email from Ms. Casteix and began an investigation. An attorney for the school said at the time it decided to not take any action, and described Mr. Hodgman as "an exemplary faculty member and an excellent employee."

When contacted by The Blade, Mr. Hodgman sent a written statement saying he was surprised The Blade was revisiting the story. He said Adrian College investigated his teaching history “and found no wrong-doing.”

“Finally, I have never been questioned by any authorities or charged with any crime,” he wrote. “The statements made by Joelle Casteix are false and misleading. The documents she has placed online are false and unofficial.”

He did not respond to follow up questions asking him to support his claim the documents are false. In his initial statement, he requested The Blade run a photograph of when he was 25 years old and taught at Mater Dei if The Blade ran a photo of when Ms. Casteix was a high school student “out of fairness.”

Ms. Casteix said she’s raised the matter with Adrian College officials every couple of years, either to be ignored or disrespected by college officials. In a meeting with then-President Stanley Caine and an attorney for the college, Ms. Casteix said she was asked if she considered the sex “rape” as a “technicality” because of her age at the time.

She’s worked as a victims’ advocate for years since her settlement, both on her own and through the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and has confronted numerous officials about alleged abuse. But, she said, her interaction with Adrian officials left her shaken.

Read the statement from Adrian College

“It was one of the most horrible days I have ever gone through in my adult life,” she said. “I think their initial hope in that meeting was to completely shut me down so that I would go away and never come back."

Beyond her concern about the college continuing to employ a man she said raped her, she also said she’s worried about students on campus. The school does not warn students about the allegations.

“What does this say to other sexual-assault victims on that campus?” she said.

A 21-year-old senior at Adrian College who asked that only her first name, Sarah, be published, said that many of her friends no longer feel comfortable taking Mr. Hodgman’s classes, and are upset that the college had provided no warning to students about his past.

“Many students are hearing about it for the first time,” she said. 

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at nrosenkrans@theblade.com419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.

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