Capuchins Are Accused of Conspiracy in Claim

By Bob Helbig
Milwaukee Journal
March 10, 1994

Waukesha - An attorney has launched a sweeping attack against the Capuchin Province, claiming in court documents that its leaders and directors of the St. Lawrence Seminary high school engaged in racketeering for decades to create an environment that encouraged the sexual abuse of children.

In response, an attorney for the Detroit-based religious order vehemently denied the allegations, calling the claims frivolous and saying the order would seek reimbursement for the cost of defending itself in court. The accusations were made Wednesday in court documents filed in Waukesha County Circuit Court by Milwaukee attorney Robert Elliott. It is believed to be the first time anyone has gone to court to accuse the religious order or seminary leaders of engaging in a conspiracy.

Elliott said the coverup occurred between the late 1960s to 1992. He represents several former students of the St. Lawrence Seminary preparatory school in Mount Calvary, near Fond du Lac, who claim they were abused by friars.

The new round of accusations upped the ante in a lawsuit in which a Brookfield man represented by Elliot, now 22, claims he was assaulted by a friar at the seminary school between September 1985 and June 1989.

In the lawsuit, filed last year, the man claims he was abused, harassed and stalked by Brother Thomas Gardipee while attending the school. At the time, Gardipee was a popular teacher and athletic director at the school.

Related criminal charges of child enticement against Gardipee were dismissed last year in Fond du Lac County Circuit Court.

Frank Steeves, the Milwaukee attorney who represents the Capuchin Province, accused Elliott of prosecuting his case in the media.

"To claim in a court document that the province has conspired to hide anything is wrong," Steeves said. "If anything, they've been completely forthcoming," he said, referring to province officials.

Steeves cited a report from an independent investigation released last May by the Capuchin Province that detailed 14 instances in which friars were believed to have engaged in sexual abuse against minors.

"I don't view it as any great crusade to make accusations about things that happened 20 years ago involving people, many of whom are dead," Steeves said. "I don't know from what basis he is making these claims."

Before Wednesday, the lawsuit's accusations against the seminary and province leaders related only to Gardipee's alleged actions. The revised lawsuit makes much broader claims, accusing the religious order of:

Trying to silence victims of sexual abuse and employees who knew about the abuse.

Moving Gardipee and other friars from one assignment to another to keep their activities unknown, "all for the purpose of continuing the stream of financial contributions from unwitting parishioners."

Tolerating sexual activity by failing to report accusations of sexual abuse to police and parents of victims.

Destroying documents regarding sexual assaults and records of treatment facilities used by both victims and church employees.

Elliott said he had ample proof to support his accusations. He said he is prepared to offer testimony from several former students who were sexually abused at the school.


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