Religious Order in Bankruptcy Has Ties to Several Local High Schools

By Lauren Fitzpatrick
Chcago Sun-Times
April 12, 2012

Historical photo of Brother Robert Brouillette

The Irish Christian Brothers, who founded Brother Rice and Leo high schools in Chicago, and St. Laurence High School in Burbank, are trying to cap damages from allegations some members of their order molested the children they taught.

The Brothers are in bankruptcy, having filed for Chapter 11 reorganization protection. And so they've set Aug. 1 as the last date anyone can file sex abuse claims against any members of the order.

"After that date, if you've been abused, physically or sexually, you will not be able to bring a lawsuit against the Christian Brothers," said attorney Mark McKenna, who has sued the brothers on behalf of Chicago-area victims.

Over the last several weeks, letters about the case and the deadline were sent to alumni who attended the schools during years when known or alleged abusers were assigned there.

Three brothers who at one time worked in Chicago have been identified as sexual predators in lawsuits filed in other states, primarily Washington, where the order also ran schools and an orphanage: Brother Edward Courtney, Brother Robert Brouillette, and Brother D.P. Ryan.

Christopher Hurley, another victims' attorney, said Christian Brothers leaders in Illinois have a documented history of transferring abusive brothers among schools to protect their reputation and minimize liability.

"Courtney was here at all three schools, moved from one to the other, because he was having problems with children at every one of them," Hurley said. Leaders of the order "sent him for psychiatric care because of it, but then put him right back into these schools even though they knew he couldn't be cured."

Hurley said internal documents from the 1970s show that complaints at St. Laurence led the brothers to bar Courtney from having contact "in any way, shape or form" at the Chicago-area schools. Four months later, the same leaders sent Courtney to Seattle, where he continued abusing children for the next 10 years.

Some of that abuse occurred in public schools where, court records show, Courtney taught after leaving the order in 1983. In 1998, Courtney pleaded guilty to a felony indecent-liberties charge, and served probation, according to court records.

Brouillette, who also had worked at St. Laurence as a counselor, was found in 1998 with child pornography on his home computer while he was living with the order in Joliet and commuting to an administrative job at Rice. He was caught in a police sting while arranging a meeting online with a pal he thought was a 12-year-old boy.

Since his sentencing in 2000, Brouillette spent his four years of probation at a counseling center for clergy with sexual problems near St. Louis. In 2004, the order kicked him out. He has since changed his name to Robert Sullivan.

Lawsuits filed against him in the early 2000s alleged he sexually assaulted students at the school in the late 1990s. They since have settled.

Ryan was principal at Brother Rice High School in Michigan in the 1960s, where he was in charge of Courtney for a time, court records show. He also ended up in Washington, records show.

The attorneys didn't know what had happened to Ryan, or even if he's still alive.

The bankruptcy case does not at all involve the Lasallian Christian Brothers, a separate order that still teaches at De La Salle Institute and St. Patrick High School in Chicago, and Lewis University in Romeoville, a spokesman for the order said. The Lasallian brothers also served at the now-shuttered Driscoll Catholic High School in Addison and Providence Catholic High School in Joliet, the spokesman said.

A spokesman for Leo said the Irish Christian Brothers haven't taught there since the early 1990s. Officials at Brother Rice declined to comment, referring all questions to a spokesman hired by the order.

The spokesman said in an emailed statement that the New York-based Christian Brothers Institute and the Chicago-based Christian Brothers of Ireland had been operating an annual seven-figure deficit "exacerbated by legal costs involving lawsuits, particularly in Seattle, Wash., and St. John's Newfoundland, Canada.

"The bankruptcy proceedings will ultimately allow (the brothers) to restore their economic viability and enable them to continue their important ministries in the community."

That angered Barbara Blaine, founder of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"The bottom line is that very victims will never hear about the (deadline for filing a claim) and many of us don't even realize that we're victims until something triggers in our adulthood," she said.

"They don't need to file bankruptcy," she continued. "They should be determining, 'Were the victims really hurt and are they suffering damages?' The Christian Brothers should be doing everything in their power to restore victims by exposing the truth."



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