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  Former O'Dea Student's Suit Alleges Abuse

By Janet I. Tu
Seattle Times
March 15, 2003

A former O'Dea High School student has filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Seattle and the Congregation of Christian Brothers, a religious order that manages O'Dea, alleging long-ago sexual abuse at the Catholic school.

The lawsuit was filed yesterday in King County Superior Court on behalf of Michael Coolen, a 56-year-old man from Corvallis, Ore.

It accuses Brother G.A. Kealy of physically accosting Coolen "in a sexual manner during school-related activities and other occasions" in the early 1960s.

Kealy, a Christian Brother who died in 1996, was then a teacher at O'Dea. The school is still directed by the Christian Brothers.

The suit, filed by attorneys Lindsay Thompson of Seattle and Kelly Clark of Portland, accuses Kealy of "grooming" Coolen by using his position of authority and trust to gain Coolen's friendship, trust and obedience. The suit also accuses the archdiocese and the Christian Brothers of failing to adequately supervise Kealy.

It seeks unspecified damages.

The archdiocese said it would be inappropriate to comment on the pending litigation, said spokeswoman Jackie O'Ryan. Staff members at O'Dea referred questions to the Congregation of Christian Brothers province for the western United States, based in Joliet, Ill.

"Since Brother (Kealy) is dead, there's no way of tracking anything," said Brother Charles Gattone, Congregation of Christian Brothers provincial. "I can't understand how something like that wouldn't have come forward before. If someone knew there was any kind of problem (at the time), it would certainly have been stopped."

The Congregation of Christian Brothers is a worldwide Catholic religious order that is headquartered in Rome. In recent years, the order has been buffeted by allegations of sexual and physical abuse at several schools around the world.

In Canada, the order was dissolved in the mid-1990s to help pay a multimillion-dollar settlement with some 90 victims abused over several decades at the now-closed Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John's, Newfoundland.

In Ireland last year, the government reached a settlement worth more than $100 million on behalf of victims abused at schools and orphanages, some run by the Christian Brothers.

Coolen, who attended O'Dea from about 1960 through 1964, said in an interview that Kealy would repeatedly nuzzle him, whisper "sweetie" to him and fondle his chest and stomach in class. Coolen said he frequently saw Kealy fondling, kissing, nuzzling and reaching for the groins of other boys as well.

In 1989, Coolen contacted the Seattle Archdiocese, which referred him to the Christian Brothers.

Gattone, the Christian Brothers provincial, said Kealy at that time was living in Ireland at a supervised, church-run retirement facility where he had no contact with children.

Coolen, now acting chairman of the music department at Oregon State University, said he is bringing the suit now because he believes "there are dozens of kids who were victims at both Briscoe and O'Dea. This is for them, too."

His lawsuit comes amid an increasing number of accounts of abuse emerging from decades ago at O'Dea and Briscoe Memorial School for Boys, a former boarding school in Kent that served orphans and boys from broken homes, also run by the Christian Brothers.

An attorney last year accused Robert Brouillette, a former O'Dea teacher convicted in an Illinois child-pornography case, of abusing a student at O'Dea in the 1960s, O'Ryan said. That information was turned over to police and to the Christian Brothers order.

Steve Hudziak, a 56-year-old Whidbey Island construction worker who says he was regularly beaten at Briscoe, is one of several men contending excessive physical abuse took place at the Kent school, which closed in 1970.

"Unfortunately, the discipline was perhaps more severe than it should have been through the years," Gattone said of Briscoe.

But, he said, "I think it was more a matter of the times than of the brothers. I don't think that's the real picture of the Christian Brothers."

 
 

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