BG Head, Order Sued for Abuse
By Jonathan Van Fleet
In the suit filed Friday, Edwin Berry Weisiger claims Labbe sexually abused him while he was an 11-year-old sixth-grader at the now-closed Sacred Heart Academy boarding school in Andover, Mass. The suit also names the academy, which was operated by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, the order that owns and operates Bishop Guertin.
Weisiger’s lawyer, Peter Hutchins of Manchester, said he had no plans to make the allegations public until the school did so itself on Thursday.
Labbe revealed Thursday in a written statement that an allegation of sexual abuse had been made against him, and said he had put himself on “administrative leave” while an investigation was conducted. He denied ever sexually abusing any student at any time in his life.
The lawsuit and publicity surrounding it could have been avoided, Hutchins said, if the religious order that owns the private Catholic school had just agreed to pay his client.
“We were obviously put into this position by the way they made this denial,” Hutchins said.
Hutchins said he had not intended to go public with the allegation because he was trying to show sensitivity to the situation.
“There was no need to disclose it,” Hutchins said. “It was a recognition that as the president of (Bishop Guertin) he was the leader of a school that had a heck of a lot of teachers and students and it could potentially have a devastating impact on those people.”
The suit accuses Labbe of forcing Weisiger to perform oral sex on him between four and eight times in a classroom during the 1960-61 school year. It states that Labbe, who went by the name Brother Gerald at the time, was Weisiger’s teacher. The suit states that Labbe was Weisiger’s mentor and “primary contact for essentially all aspects of his life” at the academy.
Weisiger, now 53 and a divorced father of two, suffered emotional and psychological harm as a result of the abuse, according to the suit.
In his written statement, Labbe said he stepped down despite his innocence because he places the safety, welfare and peace of mind of the school’s students above all else.
Students at the school said they were told about the situation over the school’s intercom system Friday morning, and discussed the matter further in their religion classes.
School went on as usual, but some students were surprised something like this could happen to another member of the school’s staff – especially its president.
Last school year, Brother Roger Argencourt, who had been serving as the school’s activities coordinator, left the school after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced against him.
Two men represented by Hutchins filed lawsuits in the spring against Bishop Guertin and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. One alleged that former Guertin teacher Brother Guy Beaulieu had sexually abused him, and the other made similar allegations against Argencourt, in both cases dating to the 1970s. Argencourt died in September.
Students said they knew something serious had happened Thursday when teachers were called in for a closed-door meeting, but they weren’t sure what it was. By Friday morning, many students still didn’t know.
“We all believe in supporting Brother,” senior Danielle Lajoie said of Labbe. “We consider ourselves like a big family. When one of us is affected, we’re all affected.”
“It’s been a tough year for the school,” said a male sophomore from Amherst. “We start to wonder when it’s going to stop.”
Hutchins, who has sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester on behalf of dozens of people who claim priests sexually abused them, said he wanted to give Bishop Guertin and its lawyer a chance to settle before filing suit.
“I think litigation is ugly, so I try to avoid it,” Hutchins said. “I’d rather solve problems than create them.”
Bishop Guertin and the Order of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart wanted more information in order to notify their appropriate insurance carriers, Hutchins said, so he passed along details about seven additional claims he had against former Bishop Guertin staff. Hutchins said he gave the names of brothers that had been accused of abuse, and dates and locations of the alleged abuse, to the school’s lawyer, David Pinsonneault.
One of the allegations involved a Brother Gerald who taught at Sacred Heart Academy. According to Hutchins, Brother Gerald later became Brother Leo Labbe when he and other brothers were allowed to discard their “chosen” names for their actual names.
Pinsonneault asked for more information on that one case and Hutchins gave him copies of old yearbooks and handwriting samples that indicated Brother Gerald was in fact Labbe, Hutchins said.
Pinsonneault said he had been asking for information on Hutchins’ other claims since September, but the school was not about to settle. “I didn’t care to know the names, but I needed to know,” he said.
At first, Hutchins said there were several “red flags” when he learned of Weisiger’s claims, including that the allegation was more that 40 years old and it was the first time Hutchins had heard of any allegation involving Labbe.
Hutchins said he and a private investigator flew to Weisiger’s Virginia home in July. After questioning Weisiger, they found the claim to be credible, Hutchins said.
“He’s a real nice guy,” Hutchins said of Weisiger. “We could not divine any motive at all” for a false claim.
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