4 More Allege Sexual Abuse at Marrero Youth Homes in New Church Abuse Lawsuit
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
New Orleans Advocate
November 13, 2018
|Madonna Manor is part of the Hope Haven campus in Marrero.|
Four more men have come forward with detailed claims of being abused both sexually and physically while living at two troubled Catholic-run youth homes in Marrero in the 1970s and ’80s, according to a new lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The 24-page suit appears to be the first aimed at the Archdiocese of New Orleans since, earlier this month, it revealed the names of 57 clergy members considered to have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children within the last 50 years.
That list included eight clergymen who worked at the two homes, Hope Haven and Madonna Manor, which have been the focus of earlier lawsuits settled by the archdiocese. The homes are largely vacant these days.
By design, the list of fallen priests and deacons released Nov. 2 did not include the names of any lay staff or religious brothers and nuns working at archdiocese facilities. Those omissions, the lawsuit claims, run counter to the archdiocese's stated aim of being completely transparent in the wake of the child sex abuse crisis that has dogged the Catholic Church for decades.
The lawsuit says that along with priests of the Salesian order, lay staffers and a religious brother were among the victims' tormentors. The victims don’t provide their names in the suit, which describes numerous acts of molestation.
The claims are separate from a raft of similar ones involving the two homes that prompted the archdiocese to pay out a financial settlement of more than $5 million in 2009.
Tuesday’s suit was filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court by John H. Denenea Jr. and Richard Trahant, attorneys for another plaintiff who recently sued local Catholic officials over claims of sexual molestation dating back decades by former deacon and accused serial child abuser George Brignac. The church has paid out multiple settlements based on claims of abuse by Brignac.
Denenea earlier this year also secured a significant financial settlement for a woman who accused a now-deceased Jesuit priest named Ben Wren of repeatedly raping her at Loyola University beginning in the late 1970s, when the plaintiff was a child.
He said Tuesday that his clients have preferred pursuing reparations in the state civil court system rather than private mediation with the church, to which other abuse survivors have turned.
The Salesians didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit. The archdiocese on Tuesday said it doesn't comment on pending litigation but offered prayers to all abuse victims.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond has previously said it is up to religious orders to identify any credibly accused nuns and brothers because the archdiocese doesn’t keep personnel files on those people.
In this case, that task apparently would fall to the Salesian order, which previously ran Hope Haven and Madonna Manor.
The eight Salesian clergy members that the archdiocese recently said had been credibly accused of abusing children at the two facilities included the founding principal of Archbishop Shaw High School and the former superior of Hope Haven. Neither of them is named in the new suit.
While statutes of limitation can bar plaintiffs from recovering damages for misconduct decades ago, in many cases, their attorneys have successfully argued that those statutes don’t apply when officials seek to conceal the alleged misdeeds from becoming public.
Denenea and Trahant allude in the suit to how, years ago, the Catholic Church frequently transferred priests who were accused of sexual misconduct from one church to another rather than turn them over to authorities or remove them from ministry. Bishops in the U.S. adopted reforms to root out such practices after the abuse scandal boiled over in Boston in 2002.
Tuesday’s suit recounts how the local Catholic Church ran Madonna Manor and Hope Haven as refuges for orphans and children whose families were struggling to raise them.
Teenagers resided at Hope Haven, and younger kids lived at Madonna Manor, with the two homes sharing a 10-acre campus founded in 1933 by Monsignor Peter Wynhoven. The site’s ornate, Spanish Colonial Revival buildings became a local landmark.
Prior to Tuesday, at least 65 people had alleged that, as children, they were beaten and sexually molested at Hope Haven and Madonna Manor between the 1940s and 1970s. Tuesday’s suit adds at least four people to that toll and brings the timeframe into the 1980s.
Two of the new plaintiffs describe arriving at Madonna Manor as preteens in 1981 and 1982.
After being made an altar boy, one plaintiff said he was raped numerous times by visiting priests as well as a counselor, mostly in a chapel sacristy. That plaintiff, who arrived at the institution at at the age of 9, also recalled being assaulted by a cleric at St. Joseph Abbey in Covington as well as by a staff member who gave him pornographic videos.
Arriving at 12, the other plaintiff recalled counselors and staffers fondling him and forcing him into oral sex while he prepared for bed or went on fishing trips. One staffer raped that plaintiff, according to the suit. He said the name of one staffer who assaulted him was “Tony.”
The remaining two plaintiffs recalled being abused as teens at Hope Haven in the 1970s by a “Brother Harold,” who allegedly fondled both boys.
One, who arrived at age 14 in 1975, said Brother Harold also forced oral sex on him while supposedly tutoring him to improve his academic grades. He was also paid money for oral sex by a counselor with whom the teen exercised, until the counselor lost interest and pursued other teens, the lawsuit said.
The other boy was 13 when placed in Hope Haven in 1978, when his father died from cancer. He eventually left the facility, which labeled him as “emotionally disturbed,” according to the suit.
All four plaintiffs described being beaten or otherwise physically abused during their stays of about three years at Madonna Manor and Hope Haven. One described being kicked in the genitals and having his face slammed into walls by caretakers before suffering a “severe emotional collapse” and landing in a mental institution.
Another told of numerous trips to the infirmary after strikes to the head and being made to kneel on rocks. He eventually ran away and was transferred elsewhere.
All four are seeking an unspecified amount of compensation from the Salesian order and the archdiocese for the emotional pain that the men reported suffering for decades.
Three of the plaintiffs described contemplating or attempting suicide while struggling to cope with their experiences at the youth homes. They describe being threatened into silence by their abusers before resolving to step forward.