Suits Against Order Involve
By Peter Smith
September 12, 2004
[See also the main
article of this feature.]
Forty-one plaintiffs have filed suit since July 15 against the Sisters
of Charity of Nazareth, alleging they were sexually or physically abused
between the 1930s and 1970s by nuns or others supervised by the nuns.
Most of the plaintiffs allege abuse at Louisville-area orphanages run
by the nuns - St. Thomas for boys, St. Vincent for girls and the later
combined St. Thomas-St. Vincent Orphanage near Anchorage. Some of the
plaintiffs also allege they were abused at schools where the Sisters of
Thirty-two plaintiffs are alleging sexual abuse by Monsignor Herman J.
Lammers, a resident chaplain at St. Thomas-St. Vincent. Fifteen nuns are
also accused of sexual or physical abuse or both, but some are only partially
identified in suits.
At the heart of each complaint is an accusation that the order knew about
the abuse and covered it up, an allegation the order has denied.
Of the nuns the order has been able to account for, one, partially identified
in a lawsuit as Sister Mary Jane, is still a member of the order and has
been removed from ministry pending investigation, according to spokeswoman
Barbara Qualls. Two others, partially identified in lawsuits as Sister
Jean and Sister Joseph Anthony, left the order many years ago, and the
rest have died, she said.
Two men associated with the orphanage, identified as "Mr. Carney"
and "Mr. Peak," are also accused of molestation.
All but two of the plaintiffs have filed their complaints as part of a
single lawsuit. Their attorney, William McMurry, has amended the case
several times to add plaintiffs. The other two plaintiffs each filed separate
lawsuits through their lawyer, Victor Tackett Jr. McMurry has since become
lead counsel on those two cases and Tackett has become co-counsel.
Most clients are seeking damages only for alleged sexual abuse, though
one of Tackett's clients also alleged physical abuse in her suit.
McMurry contends the nuns covered up sexual abuse and that the statute
of limitations, or time limits on suing for old offenses, should not apply.
He said that while some people report being physically abused, the nuns
never covered up that practice, so it is too late to sue.