Sex Abuse Allegation Rocks St. Stanislaus

By Dwayne Bremer
The Sea Coast Echo
July 20, 2007

Mississippi — A federal lawsuit filed on July 13 in U.S. District Court has stunned the local community as a former St. Stanislaus student is now claiming he was subjected to "sexual and mental" abuse during the 1983-84 school year by a dorm supervisor who is a member of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.

St. Stanislaus, a Catholic high school run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart was founded in 1854. The "Brothers" are a holy order which is independent from the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi.

All Brothers take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The group owns and operates 10 Catholic Schools in the United States and one in England. Worldwide, there are over 1200 brothers in 32 countries.

According to the lawsuit -- which provides only one side of the case -- current Wyoming resident Michael D. Stevenson was repeatedly "summoned to the office of Brother William Liembach who perpetrated various acts of pederasty, sexual and mental abuses such as masturbation, fellatio, and sodomy."

Stevenson was only 15 years old when the alleged events took place, the suit said.

"It has been too long for victims to suffer in silence because they feel guilty and ashamed," Stevenson's attorney James Reeves of Gulfport said Thursday.

The suit also alleges that St. Stanislaus and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart entered into a conspiracy to "conceal" the abuses from Stevenson's parents and authorities.

"The defendants (St. Stanislaus) actively concealed the crimes and continued to expose vulnerable children to a known pedophile," the suit said. "The defendants knew or should have known of Brother William's propensity to pedophillia, yet took no reasonable action to protect the students."

Stevenson alleges that he turned to mind-altering drugs to cope with his sexual and mental abuse. His family did not learn about the alleged abuses until last year, when therapy brought old memories back, the suit said.

"Stevenson's drug addiction and unsoundness of mind continued until late summer or early fall of 2006, and he continues to deal with occasional drug relapses," the suit said.

Stevenson's father O. Dara Stevenson, is also suing the school for what the suit calls "breech of contract."

"O. Dara Stevenson entered into a contract with the defendants to pay for tuition, books, room, board, protection, nurturing, and other good services," the suit said.

"Instead of protecting and nurturing Michael Stevenson, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, and/or St.Stanislaus allowed and/or directed Michael Stevenson to be under the direct supervision, authority and care, custody, and/or control of Brother William."

Brother William was at St. Stanislaus throughout the decade of the 1980s. He was a dormitory supervisor for boarding students who stayed at the school.

He remained at the school until the early 1990s.

According to the Brother Martin High School website, Lienbach is currently located at a Catholic High School in Rhode Island which is also run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.

Reeves said he has reason to believe that Brother William abused other students throughout his tenure at SSC.

"I have gotten no less than a dozen messages from former students this week," Reeves said. "We are actively investigating other cases of potential abuse."

Reeves said criminal complaints are possible as well, although he has not spoken specifically with Stevenson about it.

On Wednesday, Bay St. Louis Police Chief Tom Burleson said if a complaint were brought to the department, the police would investigate because there is no statute of limitations on sex crimes.

Current SSC President Brother Ronald Hingle said in a statement on the school's website on Monday that the school is aware of the lawsuit and he offered his condolences to the alleged victim.

"It is with deep regret that we have learned of a civil lawsuit for allegations of sexual misconduct that occurred in the early 1980s," Hingle said. "The sexual abuse of young people is directly contrary to the mission St. Stanislaus has strived to carry out for over 150 years. St. Stanislaus cannot and will not tolerate such abuse. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the alleged victim and his family."

The initial statement was changed Wednesday and it specifically addressed the accused brother (Liembach) as well as the school's policy.

"This faculty member has not been at SSC for many years now," Hingle said. "St. Stanislaus has a 'zero-tolerance' sexual abuse and harassment policy. Should any allegations come to light at our school, we will follow all applicable laws and cooperate fully with legal authorities."

The lawsuit did not specify an amount of damages; however, it says that Stevenson and his family have incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical costs due to Michael Stevenson's drug addiction and mental state.

Last Monday, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles settled a sex abuse case -- which had more than 500 victims -- for $660 million.

Hingle said in the written statement that the school has taken measures to ensure the safety of its students.

"Since our foundation, the mission of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart has been to evangelize youth with the Good News of the Gospel through education," Hingle said. "The care of young people is and always has been our primary concern.ā Therefore, we consider the abuse of young people an affront to our ministry everywhere and opposed to everything we profess.ā We cannot and will not tolerate such abuse.āFor over 153 years in the Bay St. Louis area, the Brothers and our lay colleagues here at SSC have formed young boys into young 'Men of Character.'āConcerned for the safety, health, and well-being of all the young men on our campus, we have conducted background checks on each faculty and staff member employed here.ā We have also educated our faculty and other workers on the recognition and prevention of abuse during annual in-service days.ā "Additionally, we at St. Stanislaus and elsewhere in our province are working with Praesidium, the national leader in abuse risk management, to create a safe environment that protects children and vulnerable adults from abuse.ā Most importantly, however, we have educated students during yearly prevention of abuse and harassment workshops as to the appropriate behavior they can expect from the adults at SSC, and we have taught them how to report anything that appears to them to be inappropriate." ā

No further information from St. Stanislaus was available by press time because Brother Ronald Hingle and a large number of Brothers of the Sacred Heart are on retreat, Assistant Principal Susan Estrade said Wednesday.


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