Legion of Christ facing seven new sex abuse lawsuits

Union Leader [Manchester NH]

April 29, 2021

By Damien Fisher

The Legion of Christ, the Roman Catholic order that operated a now defunct school in Center Harbor, is facing new lawsuits alleging sexual abuse against children at its private schools.

All but one of the suits alleges abuse against boys at the Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor. One lawsuit alleges abuse against a female student of the Immaculate Conception Academy in Rhode Island.

The Legion, founded in 1949 by Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, is headquartered in Cheshire, Conn. Maciel’s behavior reportedly included drug addiction, fathering several children with at least three different women, the sexual abuse of his own children and others. He died in 2008.

The lawsuits, filed earlier this month, allege abuse against boys age 12 to 15 by priests and brothers of the order, some of whom had not been publicly reported as abusers by the order.

The order operated the Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor until 2015. Legion spokeswoman Gail Gore has said that the closure of the school is not connected to the allegations of abuse.

“The Legion is in the process of reviewing the complaints,” Gore said in a statement.

Most of the alleged abuse happened in the early 1990s, according to the lawsuits. Former brother David Consoli, who at one point was headed to ordination as a priest, is named as an abuser in three of the lawsuits. The order acknowledged he was credibly accused of abuse last month.

Father Oscar Turrian also is listed as an alleged abuser by a Center Harbor student, as is Father David Steffy. One of the alleged Center Harbor victims claimed he was sexually assaulted by an older student, a situation allegedly encouraged by Steffy. Five of the male plaintiffs filed in the federal court in Connecticut, and one filed in the New Haven Superior Court.

Another federal lawsuit was brought by a woman who said she was abused while in confession with a Legion priest, Father Daniel McCallion. The woman was 13 when she attended the Legion’s private school for girls.

The lawsuits claim that Legion officials knew about the abuse and did nothing to stop it.

Neither Steffy nor McCallion had previously been identified as alleged abusers by the order.

McCallion did not respond to a request for comment.

The Legion reported in 2019 that Steffy was being assigned to a post in Jerusalem. At that time he was a priest in good standing with the order.

The Legion first acknowledged the abusers in its ranks in 2019, almost 10 years after the Vatican denounced Maciel and took temporary control of the order.

The 2019 reports listed four credibly accused members in all of North America, two at the Center Harbor school — Francisco Cardona and Fernando Cutanda.

Both men were later ordained by the order, though Cutanda has since been removed. Cardona died.

The attorney representing the alleged victims, Patrick Tomasiewicz of Hartford, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Center Harbor school on Dane Road, with views of Lake Winnipesaukee, is for sale. The Legion bought the campus, which has an estimated value of $8.9 million, in the 1980s from the La Salette order, which had operated the campus as a seminary.

In 2019, the Vatican released a statement on Maciel’s actions.

“The very grave and objectively immoral actions of Father Maciel, confirmed by incontrovertible testimonies, in some cases constitute real crimes and manifest a life devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning,” the statement reads.

The 2019 report released by the Legion found that 175 minors were abused by 33 Legion priests worldwide.

That figure includes 60 victims attributed to Maciel.