Former student sues St. Mary’s high school over 1980s sex abuse

Newsday [Melville NY]

March 13, 2021

By Matthew Chayes

A former altar boy is suing St. Mary’s College Preparatory Catholic high school in Manhasset over allegations that he was raped in the early 1980s by a religious brother employed as a guidance counselor.

Steven Gormley, now 53, alleges that in September 1981 Brother Robert Ryan began pulling the then-13-year-old out of class at least twice a week, “taking him to his office, and sexually assaulting him,” molestation that continued during “recess periods, study hall periods, or after school was completed for the day,” and went on for years, according to the 38-page lawsuit, filed March 10.

Years ago, Gormley said, he had raised the allegations with school leadership and was given settlements that included $55,000 in exchange for waiving his legal rights, but he is now seeking to void those agreements on the basis of what he claims is fraud.

The suit, filed by lawyers Kevin T. Mulhearn and Jon L. Norinsberg, claims that Ryan repeatedly sodomized Gormley, causing him permanent injuries, and forced him to consume alcohol or drugs “in an effort to make Plaintiff more relaxed and/or compliant.”

“I hadn’t reached puberty. I looked like a young boy,” Gormley said Friday in a Zoom interview, holding back tears. He added: “The grooming process was awful. He separated me from my parents … He destroyed my faith. He had me repelled by the church that I grew up in, that informed every life decision and every aspect of my life up until that point.”

Ryan died in April 2017, the suit says. He was an ordained member of the Marist Brothers, which ran the school. The brothers’ legal entity is also named as a defendant and did not return a message Friday seeking comment. Sean Dolan of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, to whom the St. Mary’s school office referred an inquiry, declined to comment.

Gormley’s suit was filed under the Child Victims Act, a sweeping law enacted in 2019 by New York State that grants a “look-back” period for one year that essentially suspends statutes of limitations for filing molestation claims. Those who allege they were abuse victims can sue no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred. The look-back was extended until August due to COVID-19.

Gormley, who grew up in Long Beach, now lives in Connecticut and works in the cannabis industry.

Steven Gormley at 13, the age his lawsuit says he began to be molested by a religious brother at his Catholic school in Manhasset. Credit: Steven Gormley
Steven Gormley at 13, the age his lawsuit says he began to be molested by a religious brother at his Catholic school in Manhasset. Credit: Steven Gormley

He had previously accepted settlement money and signed a legal release over the allegations: in 1993 he accepted $15,000 and a scholarship for a family friend’s son to St. Mary’s, and in 2006 he accepted $40,000 more, according to the suit. He said he did not have a lawyer either time.

His suit, which does not specify a dollar amount for damages, is seeking to void those settlements. Gormley said he was drunk when he signed both releases, an addiction he blames on Ryan; that the agreement, which he said barred Ryan from being in contact with students, was breached because, the suit says, Ryan continued to work as a Marist camp counselor; and that other allegations about Ryan molesting children were not disclosed to Gormley. Mulhearn declined to provide copies of the settlement agreements.

The suit quotes an apology letter, written to Gormley in 2006, from a Marist brother, expressing “regret for the mistreatment you received from Brother Robert Ryan.”

St. Mary's College Preparatory High School in Manhasset. Credit: Google Maps
St. Mary’s College Preparatory High School in Manhasset. Credit: Google Maps

Gormley’s case was filed at state Supreme Court in Nassau County.

Asked for examples of when the law has supported voiding a duly executed settlement, Mulhearn cited five cases from federal court. One involved a spouse who falsified tax returns and lied about the couple’s income in a divorce settlement. Another was about a hospital and its insurer that misrepresented a defendant’s policy limits.

New York State courts can consider federal rulings but are not generally bound by them.