St. Joseph Nuns Sued in Abuse Claim
School for Deaf Case Also Names 4 Others
By Ralph Ranalli
May 12, 2004
Nine former students at the now-defunct Boston School for the Deaf filed a lawsuit yesterday claiming they were the victims of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse decades ago by the staff of the school, including at least 14 nuns.
Along with the nuns from the Sisters of St. Joseph, the plaintiffs are suing two priests, an athletic instructor, and a former top official in the Archdiocese of Boston, according to their lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian.
Garabedian's clients, three women and six men, were between the ages of 7 and 16 when they were allegedly abused between 1944 and 1977. The plaintiffs, who are now between 41 and 67 years old, are all hearing- or speech-impaired. They say they were subjected to harsh physical abuse and corporal punishment, as well as alleged fondling and more serious sexual contact.
"As children at the Boston School for the Deaf, as alleged in the complaint, they were sexually molested and physically abused and otherwise mentally tormented," Garabedian said at a news conference. "The people responsible for these acts were the Sisters of St. Joseph."
The Brighton-based religious order issued a statement yesterday in response to the allegations, pledging to "begin an immediate investigation that will be fair and sensitive to all involved."
"We want to remind all that the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston approaches reports of possible abuse with compassion, pastoral care, and attention to the protection of each person involved," the statement said. "From 1899-1994 our sisters staffed The Boston School for the Deaf, reaching out to the hearing impaired. We were able to positively influence thousands of lives."
Sister Mary Carl Boland, a former principal of the school who is accused in the suit of physically abusing children, declined to comment when reached by the Associated Press yesterday at a Framingham retirement home for nuns. "I don't know what he's talking about," she said as she passed the phone to another woman. The other woman said, "We are not responding to reporters here."
William H. Shaevel,
a Boston lawyer representing the Sisters of St. Joseph order, did not return telephone calls yesterday. A lawyer for one of the accused priests, however, adamantly denied that his client did anything wrong, and voiced skepticism about the complaints in general.
"In his 20 years at the school, he saw absolutely no hint of physical or sexual abuse of any kind," George McMahon, a Quincy lawyer, said of his client, the Rev. Charles J. Murphy, who was accused of walking into a 14-year-old female student's dorm room while she was undressing.
"He never witnessed anything, and it seems very strange to me that such allegations of widespread abuse would not have been heard before," McMahon said.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, the Rev. Christopher Coyne, said that while the church kept extensive files on hundreds of allegedly abusive priests, the archdiocese has no record of any prior complaints against anyone affiliated with the Boston School for the Deaf or the Sisters of St. Joseph. He also said he could not recall any prior complaints "of a sexual nature" against a nun in the archdiocese. Though it was affiliated with the school, the archdiocese was not named as a defendant in the case.
The claims of sexual abuse included an alleged incident of sexual intercourse in nearby woods between a nun and one of the boys at the school, Garabedian said. One plaintiff, Paul Larocque, 67, said at the news conference in Garabedian's office yesterday that a nun fondled him in the bathroom when he was 5 years old.
In response to questions, Garabedian said in an interview later that some of his clients first approached him as a group late last year, after the historic $85 million settlement between the Archdiocese of Boston and more than 500 alleged victims of abuse was made public.
"I believe my clients are telling the truth," Garabedian said.
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