Lawsuit Alleges Widespread Abuse by Nuns at School for Deaf

The Associated Press, carried in Providence Journal [Boston MA]
Downloaded May 11, 2004

BOSTON (AP) - Nine former students of the Boston School for the Deaf filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging they were raped and beaten by nuns at the now-defunct school.

The plaintiffs named at least 14 nuns in the lawsuit, along with a priest, the Rev. Charles J. Murphy, the school's athletic instructor, Gary Gedney, and a former top official in the Boston archdiocese, according to their attorney, Mitchell Garabedian.

The alleged victims, three women and six men, were between the ages of 7 and 16 when they claim they were sexually and physically abused between 1944 and 1977. The Boston School for the Deaf, in Randolph, was run by an independent, nonprofit corporation until it closed more than a decade ago.

"They are all speech impaired and hearing impaired," said Garabedian, who represents a total of 31 former students at the school and expects to file more lawsuits alleging abuse there. "Instead of receiving an education they received beatings and sexually abusive actions."

Garabedian said the abuse included fondling, rape, and rape with foreign objects. At least one student's head was submerged, face-first in a toilet until she passed out; others were locked in closets for hours as a form of punishment. The alleged victims are now 41 to 67 years old.

"The physical abuse is extremely disturbing," said Garabedian, who has represented hundreds of people who filed lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests.

The nuns named in the lawsuit are from the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston. The case is the first to allege widespread abuse by nuns in the Boston Archdiocese since the clergy sex abuse scandal began in Boston in early 2002.

The 100-page complaint filed in Suffolk Superior Court named Sisters Mary McAvoy, M. John Berchmans, Helen Thomas, M. Joanita O'Connor, Catherine Corrigan, Mary Mark, Bernadette Duggan, Elizabeth Benersani, Mary Carl Boland, Mary Kieran McCormack, Alice Kirby, Helen Callahan, Miriam Theresa Ringer, as well as an unknown nun and priest and a number of other plaintiffs whose identities, it said, were unknown.

Some of the plaintiffs were named for participating in the abuse; others, like Bishop Thomas V. Daily, who held several top posts in the Boston Archdiocese, were named for alleged negligence in failing to supervise the abusers.

William Shaevel, an attorney for the school, said he had not yet seen the lawsuit or received details of the allegations.

"We've asked for but have not received any of the specifics, so we have not been able to conduct our own investigation," he said. "Our guiding principle here will be to conduct our investigation and deal with this with sensitivity, respect and dignity."

Boston Archdiocese spokesman Rev. Christopher Coyne did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Boston was the epicenter of the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Cardinal Bernard Law resigned in December 2002 amid criticism of his handling of the crisis, and the archdiocese reached an $85 million settlement last year with more than 550 people who said they were abused by priests.


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