Salesian Order Settles Sex Case

By Colleen Jenkins
St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
May 20, 2008

A former student who accused a teacher of molesting him at Tampa's Mary Help of Christians School has received a cash settlement from the defunct school and the Catholic order that ran it.

The settlement resolves the last of four civil cases against the Salesian Society for allegations of sexual abuse involving Jorge Acosta, a brother who taught and supervised students during the 1982-83 school year.

Now 50, he became a well-regarded singer, actor and instructor on the Tampa Bay arts scene before admitting in a sworn deposition last year to having sexual relations with at least three boys at the school.

The final case stood to be the most costly for the order. A circuit judge had granted the victim the right to seek punitive damages during a jury trial that was to begin this week.

But late Friday, attorneys reached a settlement. The amount is confidential, said Adam Horowitz, the Miami lawyer who filed the lawsuits.

"Both we and our client are very pleased," he said.

The victim attended seventh grade at the boarding school. He said Acosta, who taught his music class and supervised his all-boys dormitory, sexually abused him on more than 20 occasions.

After another student's mother complained that Acosta had made a pass at her son, the teacher admitted inappropriate interaction with students to the principal, court documents say. But he was allowed to remain at the school, and Horowitz's client continued to be abused, the lawyer said.

The victim, now an adult, suffered depression, anxiety and loss of faith as a result of the abuse, Horowitz said.

In a statement released Monday, the Salesians said the order has now been accredited for achieving the highest standard in child abuse prevention and is committed to providing safe environments for children in its care.

"The Salesians express our deep sorrow at past failures in this regard," said Father James Heuser of the order's New Rochelle, N.Y., office. "We acknowledge the grave sinfulness and criminality of sexual abuse of the young. We repent of the terrible harm caused to young people and their families by any of our members."


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