‘I want some validation from St. John’s’: Shrewsbury school faces sex abuse claims

Worcester Telegram & Gazette [Worcester MA]

January 3, 2024

By Brad Petrishen

SHREWSBURY – St. John’s High School is ignoring allegations that a former teacher sexually abused three brothers in the 1960s, two of the men and their lawyer alleged Wednesday. 

“I want some validation from St. John’s,” a man in his 70s who did not give his name said at a press conference called by his lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian. 

Garabedian, who handled seminal cases in Boston’s Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal, told reporters the school has not provided a substantive response to the claims. 

He alleged a former teacher at the school sexually abused two brothers who were a freshman and sophomore in the mid-to-late 1960s, along with their 9-year-old brother. 

Garabedian named the teacher as Richard Doyle, but said he did not know whether he was alive or dead.

The school, in an email sent to alumnus hours after the press conference that it shared with the Telegram & Gazette Wednesday, wrote that Doyle “served the school as a teacher from 1962 until his passing in 1976.” 

In the email, Headmaster Alex Zequeira said the school has received no other complaints about Doyle. 

“We encourage anyone with further information about Mr. Doyle — or any instance of sexual misconduct or abuse — to report it to the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office at (508) 755-8601, or to the confidential reporting number for the Diocese of Worcester at (508) 726-2880, and to Headmaster Alex Zequeira if it involves a member of our community,” the email reads. 

Zequeira, as one of the alleged victims said in the press conference hours earlier, confirmed that the man first reached out to the school with his allegations in an email in July 2019. 

Zequeira, who has served as headmaster since 2016, wrote in his email that the “school’s headmaster reached out to the alumnus who communicated the allegation and began a dialogue of compassion and support that included the school’s strong recommendation that he reach out to the District Attorney and also facilitated a conversation with the Xaverian Brothers. 

“Since then, the school’s attorney has remained in contact with his legal counsel on the matter.”

Zequeira — who wrote in the email that “we as a school community are committed to transparency as we believe it is the only way that survivors of abuse and the larger Catholic community can process and begin to heal from these egregious violations of a sacred trust” — declined an interview request Wednesday. 

He did not immediately answer a question as to what steps the school has taken to investigate the claim, if any, and why its call for potential victims to come forward came hours after the press conference rather than in 2019. 

One of the alleged victims told reporters on a Zoom call that he does not believe St. John’s has been transparent. 

The man, who alleged the teacher abused him about 25 times over a two-year period, said he emailed Zequeira about his allegations when the Xaverian Brothers released a list of faculty accused of sexual abuse in 2019 that did not include Doyle.

The man told reporters that Zequeira was apologetic and Garabedian said the school has told him only that it is investigating. 

“My clients are being ignored,” he said, calling the school’s response a “revictimization.” 

Garabedian said he believes the school should apologize to the men and offer them financial compensation “so (they) can try and heal and move on with their lives.” 

He said he does not anticipate filing a civil lawsuit because the statute of limitations appears to have expired.

Garabedian said the case is an example of why Massachusetts should pass legislation that would make it easier for people to sue for alleged sexual abuse that occurred as children.

Current law, he said, requires such cases to be filed before a person reaches age 53, or within seven years of the time the victim “discovered or reasonably should have discovered that an emotional or psychological injury or condition was caused by said act.”

Both brothers on the call with reporters Wednesday said they never discussed what happened to them until later in life. 

One of the men said he buried the pain and never realized the harm it likely caused in his life. He said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and problems sleeping. 

The other, who said he fought off the teacher’s advances, told reporters he dropped out of St. John’s midway through his time there as a result. 

The man said he told people he left because he didn’t make the basketball team. 

“I’ve always lived with that my whole life,” he said. “Over the years, I would never tell anyone this happened to me.” 

Robert Hoatson, a former Catholic priest who now helms Road to Recovery, an organization that works to expose the church’s failures to address abuse claims, said the men’s stories call for Massachusetts lawmakers to act. 

Hoatson told reporters that a number of states, including Maine and Vermont, have passed laws making it easier for people abused in childhood to sue. 

Two Massachusetts bills would eliminate the statute of limitation in civil child sexual abuse lawsuits. Hoatson, who is also a survivor of sexual clergy abuse, said the main opponent of such legislation has historically been the church. 

Hoatson said it took him more than a dozen years to get laws passed in his home state of New Jersey. 

Massachusetts lawmakers have proposed eliminating the statute of limitation since at least 2019, according to the Legislature’s website

State records show that, when a Senate bill on the topic failed to pass the last legislative session, a lobbyist for the Catholic Church opposed it

Hoatson, who drove from his home in New Jersey to appear personally and take questions from reporters near St. John’s Wednesday, said the church’s words about transparency ring hollow. 

In the end, he said, “they’re worried about protecting their asses and their assets,” not transparency. 

St. John’s is one of 13 Xaverian Brothers schools, a network of Roman Catholic secondary schools that span the country and globe.