Jesuit High sex abuse settlements kept quiet; 1 victim speaks out for first time
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
September 20, 2018
Ricky Windmann wasn’t nervous when he accompanied janitor Peter Modica to his ground-floor maintenance office at Jesuit High School on an otherwise unremarkable day in the late 1970s.
After all, Modica – a former semipro baseball player – had let the skinny, light-haired boy play basketball on the school’s grounds several times, even though he wasn’t a student. He also bought Windmann a bike and stopped by the boy’s house, which was a couple blocks from the school’s Mid-City campus, to meet Windmann’s mother.
But any feeling of safety was replaced by paralyzing fear when Modica suddenly pulled Windmann’s pants down and forcibly performed oral sex on him. Windmann doesn’t recall his exact age at the time, but he said he believes he was in his early teens.
The janitor would go on to sexually abuse the adolescent several more times in the ensuing years – once in concert with a Jesuit priest and teacher, Neil Carr – only stopping when Windmann grew big enough to protect himself.
Six years ago, Jesuit’s leadership paid Windmann $450,000 to settle his abuse claim. The agreement came on the heels of the school’s settling two other sets of abuse claims from the same era involving Donald Dickerson, a Jesuit scholastic, and religious brother Claude Ory, according to interviews and records obtained by The Advocate.
It is unclear the size of the other settlements. Typical settlements in these types of cases are in the six figures. Modica, Carr and Dickerson are dead. Ory appears to be living in Maryland.
The local leadership of the Jesuits, a religious order founded by Saint Ignatius Loyola known for a commitment to education and social justice, didn’t publicly report the settlements to Jesuit High School students, parents or the broader community. The guidelines of the Jesuit order related to addressing abuse cases does not appear to include any notification requirements.
However, the Jesuits’ guidelines differ from ones that apply to local diocese, as set forth by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, which require disclosure to the flock when a priest, for instance, is the subject of a credible abuse claim.
Jesuit High School falls within the Archdiocese of New Orleans, but it is run by the Jesuit order, making it unclear which guidelines prevail.
The school’s failure to disclose his settlement is among the reasons that Windmann has decided to speak out.
“We know that there’s systematic and institutionalized abuse of children …and (ending) this should be the top priority,” Windmann, now 53, said in a lengthy interview after being reached for comment. “I was born a Catholic. This is my church. We, the parishioners, the abuse victims, need to take our church back, because that’s what Jesus – what God – would want us to do.”
Windmann’s story offers a window into how abuse once existed, and was later quietly settled, by the leadership of one of the city’s most venerated institutions, a training ground for many of the city’s civic and cultural elite.
The revelations of abuse at Jesuit also come amid a new phase of the sex abuse scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church starting in the early 2000s. At the time, the massive scale of the abuse – and the overwhelming evidence that church elders had turned a blind eye to it – prompted the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to commit to a series of reforms.
But a detailed report earlier this year of widespread abuses in Pennsylvania has led to renewed call for a full accounting across the U.S.
A handful of attorneys general across the country have vowed to investigate these cases. Meanwhile, the latest outrages have also drawn out many new victims of abuse who are detailing their cases in hopes of conveying a message that these acts, even decades old, need to be addressed.
The scandal’s resurgence has also brought a renewed focus on the guidelines for the disclosure of the abuse itself as well as any settlements made by the church to victims of abuse. The Archdiocese of New Orleans has committed to follow these guidelines, but has sometimes fallen short, as with the case of George Brignac, a defrocked Metairie deacon. The church recently settled several claims of abuse involving Brignac, also from decades earlier, but did not alert parishioners until the settlements were reported by The Advocate. Brignac continued to serve as a lay minister until recently.
The Jesuit guidelines appear to be different than that of the broader archdiocese. For instance, the Jesuit guidelines do not appear to require informing the Catholic community or parents and students of the high school in a case such as Windmann’s.
Longtime New Orleans religion reporter Bruce Nolan said Wednesday he was surprised to learn there were differences in the post-2002 sexual abuse reporting policies and practices between the Archdiocese and the Jesuits in the city.
“That distinction would be lost on the ordinary Catholic in the pew,” Nolan said. Since the church scandal broke in the early 2000s, “the laity certainly was justified in getting the impression the spirit and substance of the diocesan pledge applied more or less equally to every priest and priestly supervisor, no matter what community they may be living in inside the umbrella of the Catholic Church.”
A statement issued by Jesuit High School on Wednesday said school officials were legally restricted from answering questions on Windmann and the other cases.
“But we have always lived up to to what has recently been expressed by the provincial of the Central and Southern Province of the Society of Jesus,” the statement continued. “Since 2002, the Society of Jesus has worked to rebuild trust, to prevent abuse and to respond quickly to any allegations of abuse against minors.
“The Central and Southern Province has adopted a zero-tolerance policy, complying fully and immediately with all legal requirements. The good of anyone who may have been abused is always our primary concern.”
The statement concluded, “All our policies and protocols regarding abuse cases are reviewed by external lay experts to ensure that they meet ‘best-practice’ standards, especially the Charter for the Protection of Young People.”
‘I froze up’
Modica was well-known in New Orleans when Windmann was growing up near Jesuit, in the 4200 block of D’Hemecourt Street, and going to a nearby public elementary school, then called A.D. Crossman and now called Esperanza Charter School.
Modica had been a star baseball player at S.J. Peters High School on South Broad Street and then a relief pitcher for the minor leagues’ New Orleans Pelicans in the late 1940s.
Windmann said he first met Modica as he shot hoops on a goal at the back of campus near the corner of Banks and South Solomon streets. Modica – then in his early 50s – meandered over and said, “Hey, I’m the janitor. You can’t play basketball here.”
His words hung in the air for a moment before he changed his mind. “OK, you can play basketball. I’ll give you permission,” Modica said, according to Windmann.
Windmann and his friends kept coming around, and Modica started buying them various treats, including tamales from Manuel Hernandez’s famous food stand just up South Carrollton Avenue.
When Modica bought him a bicycle and started visiting him at his mother's home, Windmann sensed the janitor had taken a special interest in him. But he still wasn't worried, nor was his mother.
“She thought he was the bee’s knees – just the best thing,” Windmann said.
Eventually, Modica invited him to his office. Windmann thought it was innocent enough – but then Modica began touching him.
“I was scared,” Windmann said. “I froze up.”
Modica seized on the boy’s trepidation, pulling Windmann’s pants down and performing oral sex on him.
Similar incidents would unfold every few weeks or so for a couple of years. Modica’s assaults eventually escalated into anal rape – including one time when a school fair was unfolding within earshot.
Windmann said he tried to fight back, saying firmly, “This is wrong. We’re not supposed to do this.”
Windmann recalls Modica pleading with him that it was right for them to “be doing this.” The older man also warned Windmann to not even think about telling anyone, not even his mother.
“If you say anything, who’s your mom going to believe – me or you?” Windmann remembers Modica saying.
Windmann said he’s never forgotten the despair he felt the two times other adults at Jesuit witnessed the abuse but didn’t help him. The first time it happened, Modica was abusing Windmann in the on-campus Chapel of the North American Martyrs.
A lay person came in, someone Windmann didn’t know. That person simply said, “Goddamn it, Pete,” before leaving.
The second time it was a bespectacled, white-haired priest Windmann had seen enter and leave a campus rectory numerous times: The Rev. Cornelius “Neil” Carr, who seemed a towering figure.
A native of Buffalo, New York, and a graduate of Georgetown University, Carr had been the principal at St. Peter’s Preparatory in Jersey City, New Jersey. He arrived at Jesuit in 1977, heading the theology department of a venerable school whose alumni included famous politicians, musicians and pro athletes.
A priest, Windmann thought, would surely put Modica in his place.
Instead, the priest walked over, put one hand on the middle of Windmann’s back and said, “Relax.”
Then Carr began masturbating as Modica continued to rape him, Windmann said.
As he got older and physically stronger, Windmann said he simply told Modica he wouldn’t let him abuse him again. Modica, in response, threatened to murder Windmann’s mom.
“But I’m old enough at that point to say, ‘No, you’re not.’ And that was the end of it,” Windmann said.
Windmann didn’t wait long to tell his parents about Modica and the priest. He remembers his father vowed to kill the man who had hurt his son.
However, Windmann’s father never did anything to Modica. And while Windmann thought his parents would call the police or report the abuse, they didn’t.
At some point, Windmann recalls that his father, who was separated from his mom, stopped looking him in the eye when they spoke. He eventually stopped coming around.
His mother fell into a deep depression.
“When you do this to a child, you don’t just destroy the child – you destroy the family,” Windmann said. “My mom was disabled – she didn’t work anymore. She aged before my eyes.”
Windmann was also scarred. He dabbled in drugs and drank excessively, eventually going to rehab. He once tried to kill himself with a bottle of pills. He realized he’d survived when he woke up at Charity Hospital with a tube down his throat.
Windmann eventually became a computer engineer, landing a job with IBM. He got married, raising a son who’s a petty officer in the U.S. Navy and a daughter who’s about to begin her freshman year at college, he said. He recognizes that not all stories like his have such a benign outcome.
“It’s serendipity … I survived this and was able to have somewhat of a normal life,” Windmann said. “A lot of abuse victims who won’t come forward are addicted to drugs or alcohol and are going to die.”
‘The tipping point’
It was autumn of 2012 when Windmann realized he couldn’t live the rest of his life without confronting Jesuit High about Modica and the priest who walked in on them.
Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted that year of 45 counts of sexually abusing children, using his access to the university’s football facilities to prey on his victims.
“It was the Sandusky case that was the tipping point, the catalyst, for me,” Windmann said.
He contacted officials at Jesuit. That set the stage for a meeting in a Dallas office among Windmann, psychologist Ron Garber and the president of Jesuit High in New Orleans at the time, the Rev. Raymond Fitzgerald, S.J.
In a recording of the meeting reviewed by The Advocate, Fitzgerald opened the meeting by saying he believed Windmann. He said he had spoken to staff members who recalled Modica’s habit of bringing children onto campus from the surrounding neighborhood.
“What you’ve set up as far as the background of the matter – I would describe as clearly confirmed,” Fitzgerald’s said on the recording. “If I’m asked to make a moral judgment on the matter, then I would say I’m morally prepared to say what you told me is true.”
Then, Fitzgerald said that it seemed clear the priest who witnessed the rape didn’t report it and “seemed to take a much more clear interest.”
Windmann corrected Fitzgerald. “He enjoyed it,” Windmann said.
Fitzgerald then laid out three photographs of priests who matched a physical description Windmann had provided when he reported his claims.
Windmann pointed out Carr, without knowing who he was.
“That goes to my mind as confirmation as well,” Fitzgerald said. “These two (other) men were dead at the time of the incident.”
Windmann asked, “What’s his name?”
“Carr is the last name,” Fitzgerald said. “Neil Carr.”
Windmann recently recalled that throughout the settlement process, Jesuit’s then-president “treated me well and treated me fairly.”
“But,” Windmann said, with his voice taking an edge, “it was because he was scared of me. … He was shaking in his boots every time we met.”
A mediator with ties to Jesuit High as well as other schools run by the order helped the two sides reach agreement on a $450,000 settlement.
The agreement contained a confidentiality clause. Windmann disputes that he asked for one.
Fitzgerald – who died two years ago from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS – informed Windmann from what bank the check would be drawn. The school president said he looked forward to seeing Windmann two days later, on Dec. 4, 2012, at the Estrada Hinojosa financial firm’s office in downtown Dallas.
More Cases, More Settlements
It’s unclear whether Jesuit High School had contemporaneous complaints of sexual misconduct by Carr and Modica.
But by the time of the Windmann settlement, there were at least two other cases involving Jesuit from the same era that Modica and Carr coincided, each resulting in settlements.
One plaintiff identified only by his initials filed a lawsuit in 2007 alleging that a religious brother, Claude Ory – a supervisor of Modica – had repeatedly molested him between 1974 and 1977. The plaintiff was a 14-year-old student there while Ory worked for Jesuit and its governing province.
Another lawsuit two years later targeted a teacher at Jesuit studying to become a priest named Donald Dickerson, accusing him of sexually abusing children at the school. That suit’s plaintiff alleged Dickerson had fondled his genitals, among other abusive acts, in the fall of 1974, when the plaintiff was underage.
The case against Dickerson alleged that Jesuit officials knew about his misconduct and concealed it. The one against Ory asserted that the plaintiff repressed memory of the incident until 2006, and he filed for damages then.
Both cases were settled for undisclosed amounts, court records show.
Except for Modica, all were alive at the time Windmann’s complaint and the other two lawsuits were filed, though Carr and Dickerson were elderly, and have since died.
Carr went on to other assignments in Florida and New York after his time at Jesuit. In 2006, The Florida-Times Union newspaper reported, the Jesuits’ province in New York announced it was investigating “allegations of child abuse” made against Carr, then 85. He appears to have spent his final days at a residence hall on Jesuit-run Fordham University, where an official said he died a few years ago.
Dickerson, for his part, later went to St. John Berchmans Co-Cathedral in Shreveport. In 2010, a lawsuit accused him of sexually abusing an 11-year-old in 1982, a time when Dickerson had been visiting the boy’s home as his family converted to Catholicism. Public records indicate Dickerson died in Nebraska in 2016.
Ory later went on to Dallas’ Jesuit College Preparatory School and was fired in 1994 after repeated allegations of sexual misconduct, according to a 2007 report from The Washington Examiner.
Ory eventually ended up at Loyola College in Baltimore but was removed after the allegations again surfaced, the Examiner story said.
Public records suggest he lives at a Jesuit residence in Baltimore. Receptionists at the facility forwarded calls to a specific extension when a reporter asked to speak with Ory.
A machine picked up each time. Messages left for Ory have not been returned.