Diocese Sued in Sex Case

By Bill Zajac
[Springfield MA] Republican
March 28, 2002

A 42-year-old Pittsfield man, who says he was sexually abused by a member of a religious order at a Lenox seminary 30 years ago, has filed a civil suit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield and the religious order.

Mark Leon, who had his suit filed in Hampden Superior Court yesterday, said he was abused by Brother Lawrence Gauthier at the now defunct Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Lenox approximately 100 times between the ages of 9 and 12.

The abuse led to more than 25 years of failed suicide attempts, failed relationships and failed jobs, he said.

The suit lists four counts, which are negligence and liability of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield, and negligence and liability of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.

The diocese didn't respond to a request for comment. However, the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, the bishop of the diocese, said previously the diocese is only responsible for a member of a holy order if that person is working in a diocesan church.

This is the first sexual abuse suit against the Springfield Diocese since the mid-1990s and the first since more than 80 priests in the Archdiocese of Boston were named during the last few months as possible abusers.

The lawsuit doesn't seek any specific monetary amount in damages.

"We will wait for a jury to decide this or see what the church would be willing to settle this for," said Leon's lawyer Jeffrey A. Newman of Boston, who is representing several other people accusing church officials of sex abuse.

"Mark wants a recognition of the occurrence, he wants some type of compensation for the psychological pain and suffering he's experienced and he wants the information out so that other people who may have been abused know they are not alone," said Newman.

Bernard J. Rosinski, the provincial secretary of the Priests of the Sacred Heart in Hales Corner, Wis., refused to comment.

"We have not received any notification of the suit. It would be improper to comment before we know more about this," Rosinski said.

Gauthier, who is now retired and living in a Priests of the Sacred Heart retirement home in Milwaukee, was a caretaker at the seminary. Several messages seeking comment were not returned by Gauthier.

The seminary existed for about 20 years before it closed around 1980. The site is now home of the Canyon Ranch Spa.

The Priests of the Sacred Heart has a worldwide presence and does mostly missionary work. Only 120 of their orders' 2,300 members live in the United States. The order no longer has a presence in Massachusetts.

Leon is also seeking criminal charges against Gauthier. He met with Lenox police earlier this week and was encouraged that the deadline on the statute of limitations may have halted when Gauthier left the state, he said.

The police officer who met with Leon was unavailable yesterday.

Leon said he wants Gauthier to take responsibility for what he did.

"I want him to experience the shame that I experienced for so many years," Leon said.

Leon said he was 9 when he was introduced to Gauthier by other children who played on seminary grounds.

"He would let us ride the tractor and take us for all the ice cream we wanted," said Leon.

Gauthier would also fondle the boys' genitals and forced them to have anal sexual relations with each other, according to Leon and his lawyer.

"My entire life changed from the first time I was abused. It was the start of living a lie," Leon said.

"I went from an A student to one who struggled," said Leon, who dropped out of school in the 11th-grade.

The first of 15 to 20 suicide attempts was made at age 10, he said.

"I swallowed a bottle of aspirin thinking that would kill me," Leon said.

In 1978, at 18, he was hospitalized for the first time after a suicide attempt.

He was living in Greenfield in 1999 when he made his most recent suicide attempt - this one by strangulation - and was admitted to Providence Hospital in Holyoke.

He was later transferred to a Boston hospital, where he began rebuilding his life, he said.

He said he even returned to the Catholic Church and has a vibrant faith life.

"There was a time I hated the Catholic Church. I associated it with abuse and shame," said Leon, who recently completed truck-driving school and now works as a truck driver.

Leon was known as Mark Koscielniak until changing his name seven years ago.(


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