2 File Suit Claiming Abuse by Priest in School Dorm

By Dong-Phuong Nguyen
St. Petersburg Times
November 19, 2003

More than a year ago, Minnesota attorney Jeffrey Anderson filed a lawsuit accusing a brother at Mary Help of Christians School of molesting a male student there some years ago.

On Tuesday, Anderson stood in front of the school off Interstate 4 and made another allegation: This time, it was that a priest molested two boys more than a decade ago as they slept in their dorms.

As he did in the first case, Anderson filed a complaint Tuesday against the Salesians of Don Bosco religious order, which runs the school. The school used to be all-male, but went coed four years ago.

Tuesday's lawsuit also names Father Terence O'Donnell, a former teacher at the boarding school who also served as a dorm monitor.

"We're here today to sound the alarm and put the order that runs the school on notice," Anderson said. "The deception and lies cannot continue."

Both victims, known as John Doe 82A and John Doe 82B, sought Anderson's help after learning of his lawsuit in the other case.

The alleged victims, both 24, live in the Tampa Bay area. One is married, the other single. They are coming forward with their allegations because they believe some friends and former classmates were also victimized, Anderson said.

The married one was 13 when he was allegedly molested. He left the school after the incident.

"The principal of my school overheard the priest in my dorm," he wrote in a statement issued through Anderson. "The principal called my parents. My parents met with the principal and director of the school. I was told that Fr. Terry would be sent away and that the school would handle the situation."

The other John Doe said he was molested when he was in seventh grade. He told his parents, who met with the principal and director of the school. They were assured that it would be taken care of.

A week later, John Doe 82A wrote, two men in suits, who said they worked for the school, questioned him and told him that he was dreaming and nothing sexual had occurred.

"I never dealt with this and tried to put it out of my mind until this year," he wrote. "I am coming forward now because I don't want others to be harmed and this to be kept a secret anymore."

Officials with the religious order, operating independently of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, responded to the lawsuit in a statement Tuesday morning. They wrote that O'Donnell has been removed from public ministry pending review of the allegations by their Province Review Board.

According to the office of the Provincial, O'Donnell was investigated in 1993 by Florida's Department Health and Rehabilitative Services (now the Department of Children and Families) for the same allegations.

No charges were filed, wrote Father James Heuser, provincial of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

"Should any young person have been abused while in our care, we profoundly apologize to them and their families," Heuser wrote. "We offer to assist them in any way we can and to make amends for our failures."

Late Tuesday, the DCF issued a statement in response to Heuser's news release. It said the department does not file criminal charges but refers child abuse investigations to law enforcement authorities for prosecution.

Under state law, the agency "can neither confirm or deny whether a child abuse investigation took place," the department said.

The other complaint against the school was filed in April 2002. Former Tampa resident Rick Gomez, 29, filed suit against the Vatican, the Diocese of St. Petersburg, the Salesians of Don Bosco religious order and Brother William Burke, alleging that Burke molested him as many as 30 times in 1987 when Gomez was 14. He accused the church of covering up a police investigation.

However, the court ruled that the complaint was barred by the statute of limitations. That lawsuit is being appealed, Anderson said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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