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  Friar Is Suspended Amid Sex Allegations

By Mary Beth Murphy
Milwaukee Sentinel
December 21, 1992

A Capuchin brother who served as athletic director of St. Lawrence Seminary preparatory school in Fond du Lac County was suspended last week amid new allegations of sexually assaulting students, the order's provincial leader said Sunday. Brother Thomas Gardipee had been fired four years ago over similar allegations, but was reinstated the same year, said Father Kenneth Reinhart, head of the Detroit-based Capuchin Province.

Gardipee was one of at least six Roman Catholic priests and brothers accused by eight former students of sexual assault in a story Sunday in the Milwaukee Journal.

A victim alleged that Gardipee gave teenage students condoms, alcoholic beverages and erotic magazines. The latest incident of alleged sexual misconduct involving Gardipee reportedly was in 1987.

The Fond du Lac County Sheriff's Department is investigating the allegations, said Father Joseph Diermeier, rector of the Mount Calvary boarding school, which has about 200 students.

"Our purpose now is to thoroughly investigate these reports, no matter how far back they occurred," Reinhart said in a statement. "We intend to initiate an independent investigation just as quickly as we can and will report more on that soon.

"Our total concern is for our students and their parents. Nothing will stand in the way of providing an environment that will assure their confidence and respect," said Reinhart, who was in Mount Calvary over the weekend.

Gardipee was fired by Reinhart in 1988 when he first learned of the friar's "inappropriate behavior," Reinhart said.

However, while Reinhart was in Rome that year, his decision was reversed by the provincial council on the basis of a

psychological evaluation and professional advice, the statement said.

"When new information was revealed last week, Brother Gardipee was suspended from his duties," Reinhart said.

The priest principally accused of alleged sexual abuse, Father Gale Leifeld, a former principal of the school, was removed from the seminary staff more than 10 years ago. He is receiving professional counseling and does not perform any priestly duties, Reinhart stressed.

Most of the allegations of sexual abuse took place in the 1970s and early '80s, before Reinhart assumed leadership of the province in 1987, the statement said.

"Since then, specific policies have been installed to protect our students and to deal with incidents of this kind," Reinhart said.

Stunned by the magnitude of the allegations, the Capuchins met in an all-day session Sunday with their leaders at the seminary to deal with the pain and "tremendous shock," Diermeier said.

Diermeier had reported Leifeld to superiors in the late 1970s for allegedly molesting a student. The rector said in an interview Sunday that he thought everything had been taken care of then.

"I thought I was doing the appropriate thing. I thought I was doing really well," he said.

Diermeier said he and others are disappointed and angry over the way the allegations were handled within the order.

The school is in recess for the Christmas vacation, but several parents called about the publicized allegations, Diermeier said.

"But not as many as we thought would," he added.

No parents threatened to withdraw their children from the school, he said.

Diermeier said he was concerned about the impact the sexual abuse allegations would have on future enrollment and recruitment.

"I think we have established over the last years a good rapport with many parents. I hope that continues to shine forth," he said.

St. Lawrence has a "fine teaching history" and graduated "many excellent young men to both public and religious careers," Reinhart said. Even the victims who publicized the allegations "spoke of loyalty to the school and the Capuchins and the wonderful experiences they have had at the school," he said.

"The issue of sexual abuse among the clergy and religious has received considerable attention in recent months, and it becomes all the more poignant when it involves us," he said. "The environment in which we all function has changed substantially since the 1970s, and people are far more willing and able to discuss their personal experiences now.

"As distressful as this is to the church and all of the good people involved, I believe it is healthy to have these incidents made public, and I deeply respect those who are victimized for their courage in coming forward. Unless all of us students, alumni, Capuchin staff and the public are fully informed we cannot take constructive actions necessary to deal with it."

A brother at the seminary who answered the phone said softly, "It devastates me. It's such a sadness for those who have been the victims."

Speaking about the effect on the friars, he said, "I do believe sometimes being humbled is not a bad thing."

 
 

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