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  Strake Reacts to Abuse Charges
Letter to Parents Outlines Allegations against Former Teacher

By Tara Dooley
Houston Chronicle
May 7, 2002

Barely 24 hours after learning that an ex-teacher had been accused of sexual misconduct, Strake Jesuit College Preparatory administrators mailed out about 8,000 letters outlining the allegation.

"I think one of the things people have been most upset about has been the instances when the church has failed to address something openly and honestly," said the Rev. Daniel Lahart, president of the school.

The letter also asked parents and alumni to report any incidents of misconduct by teachers or other personnel.

"We thought that it was an opportunity for us really to address this in as straightforward a manner as possible," Lahart said.

Lahart said he learned of the allegation against the Rev. Vincent Orlando, a former teacher and one-time principal of Strake, late April 22. Early the next morning, the board of directors unanimously decided the school community must be told.

By the end of the day, Lahart had addressed the student body of ninth- through 12th-grade boys on closed-circuit TV. By that evening, letters explaining the incident had gone out to parents and former students, he said.

"That day I got the letter, my reaction was, this is the way this sort of thing ought to be handled," said Brock Akers, the parent of a freshman.

Orlando was dismissed from his teaching position at Jesuit High School in Tampa, Fla., April 22, after a preliminary investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor in 1985.

The alleged victim was not a Strake student or a Houston resident, and the incident did not occur in Houston, said the Rev. Thomas Stahel, a spokesman for the New Orleans Province of the Society of Jesus. The society, known as Jesuits, is affiliated with both schools.

Orlando taught at Strake from 1979 to 2000, when he moved to the school in Tampa. Before coming to Houston, Orlando taught at Jesuit College Preparatory in Dallas.

The New Orleans Province has received no other charges of sexual abuse against Orlando, Stahel said.

"There have been no reports to me or other school officials alleging any sexual misconduct," he said.

Stahel declined to reveal where the alleged incident occurred, the status of the investigation or any details of the allegation.

"I'm interested in preserving the confidentiality of the minor who made the allegation," he said.

John Hagale, a member of Strake's board and a parent of a graduate and a senior at the school, said Orlando taught computer classes and was respected by Hagale's sons.

"This is a tragic thing, whatever his innocence or guilt is," Hagale said. "It is tragic for him. It is tragic for the young man. You feel truly badly for everyone."

In his address, Lahart told students about the situation and encouraged them to tell a teacher or other staffer if they were the target of any misconduct, he said.

In the letter to parents and alumni, Lahart said that if any past or current student had a complaint about Orlando or anyone else, "please be assured that we care, that we will act with all the attention and action that such a complaint merits."

The letter also offered phone numbers for those complaints.

"We will not allow any person to remain in a position of trust and authority or even to have contact with our students in the face of a verified or undenied allegation of such misconduct," the letter stated.

In the past week, Lahart and the board have received no such complaints, he said. In about two dozen letters and 50 e-mails, Lahart said he has received support for the school's handling of the situation and support of Orlando.

"You have to address it," Hagale said. "If you don't, it becomes more of an issue than if you tell them everything you know."

Strake Jesuit has about 770 students. Nine of the school's staff and faculty of 65 are priests.

 
 

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