Cathedral High School Graduate Finds Validation after Springfield Diocese Hears Her Sexual Abuse Claim against Late Rev. Karl Huller
By Anne-Gerard Flynn
Republican via Mass Live
February 12, 2021
|The late Rev. Karl Huller's photograph is seen in a screen capture from the website for St. Michael's Cathedral in Springfield, where he once served as rector and a meeting room at the Bishop Marshall Center was once named in his honor. In 2004, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield settled claims by two men who alleged they were sexually abused by Huller as students at Cathedral High School. In December 2020, the diocese accepted as credible a third survivor's claim that she was also sexually assaulted by Huller as a student there in the 1960s.|
Sixteen years after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield reached settlements with two men who alleged they were sexually abused by the late Rev. Karl Huller as students at Cathedral High School in the 1960s, the diocese accepted as credible a third survivor’s claim she was sexually assaulted by Huller at the school during that same time period.
The diocese, which had reached financial settlements with two men in 2004, accepted as credible in December a third survivor’s claim that she was assaulted by Huller at Cathedral High School in the 1960s.
The finding that “there is reasonable cause to believe” her allegations against Huller, who once served as the diocese’s superintendent of schools, continues an ongoing narrative that many of the accused in the Springfield diocese held high positions that allowed the abuse to be covered up. Survivors coming forward continue to say their allegations are not being handled in a timely and transparent fashion.
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian of Boston is negotiating with diocesan lawyer Kevin D. Withers of Egan, Flanagan & Cohen for financial compensation on the woman’s behalf, but was critical of the fact the allegation was reported to the diocese in November 2019 and that it has yet to release all the names of priests credibly accused.
Not to do so “continues the secrecy which prevents much needed validation for clergy sexual abuse victims and places children in danger,” Garabedian said.
Bishop William D. Byrne, who was installed here in December, has said he will update the diocese’s published list to include all the credibly accused. He plans a number of other related reforms in a diocese being sued by a survivor whose claims he was repeatedly raped as a youth by the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon have been deemed credible.
Huller, who was ordained by Weldon in 1954, served as an instructor, guidance counselor and athletics director at Cathedral High School from 1959 until 1970 when he became the diocesan school superintendent. At the time of his death in 1997 at the age of 72, he was financial vicar of the diocese and rector of St. Michael’s Cathedral. Its Bishop Marshall Center, which Huller helped design, once included a “Fr. Karl Huller Meeting Room.” It is still listed on the center’s website, though a photo of that honor was removed from the online gallery Friday following an inquiry by The Republican.
One of the men involved in the 2004 agreement with the diocese — part of a $7.5 million settlement involving claims against 18 priests by 46 claimants — had said at the time he had expected such tributes to Huller would disappear. He claimed Huller performed oral sex on him on several occasions in a locked room at Cathedral High School, followed by absolution that implied he had sinned. As a result of such abuse, he said he spent almost 20 years in and out of mental institutions.
The woman who reported allegations against Huller to the Springfield diocese did so Nov. 21, 2019 through Garabedian, whose representation of clergy sexual abuse cases dates to the 1990s and was featured in the film, “Spotlight.” She was interviewed by diocesan investigators Brenda Burge and Norman Charest on Aug. 18, 2020, in the presence of Garabedian, after the allegations were reviewed by the Hampden District Attorney’s Office.
She received a letter Dec. 11, 2020 from the diocese stating that based on the investigators’ report the diocesan Review Board recommended “there is reasonable cause to believe the allegation that you were sexually abused by Father Karl Huller on two occasions” and that “Bishop McManus has accepted the review board’s recommendation.” (Worcester Bishop Robert McManus served as apostolic administrator here for several months prior Byrne’s installation.)
The woman, now a senior citizen who no longer lives in Massachusetts, told The Republican she was motivated to come forward with her allegations by the MeToo movement with more women speaking out about sexual assault and more survivors of clergy sexual abuse speaking out as well.
She said she sought validation from the church of what happened after five decades of keeping silent.
Carolee McGrath, the diocese’s media relations manager, said, “While we don’t comment on ongoing settlement negotiations, the diocese remains committed to improving how cases of sexual abuse are handled in a trauma-informed way.”
Huller’s accused asked that her identity remain private in sharing her allegations. Here is her account:
“Father Huller was one of my teachers for religion and I was having a few issues understanding certain things, so I asked him if I could stay after school for some extra help. He said sure and I did.
I was sitting down and he come over to look at a question in the book and he put his hand on my breast and I got agitated. I said, ‘What are you doing? Get away.’ He just laughed.
I was rattled and thought I should tell my mother about this when I get home, but I also thought hopefully let it go and it won’t happen again. I tried to put it out of my mind.
Some three or four weeks later I was having trouble again and I didn’t want to fail the class so I asked if he could help me during class. He said he would help me, but not during class time even though I had seen in other classes, a student get help from a teacher in the back of the class while someone — maybe from the office — would come in to watch the class.
I went back again after class and was the only one and he was sitting at his desk. I told him the problem with the chapter, and he gets up, comes over to where I was sitting and says, ‘Show me.’ I started to get nervous and put the book away from me so he would not stand close as I showed him what I was having a hard time understanding and he bent over from behind me and he said, ‘I don’t know what you are talking about, it’s too far, stand up and pick up the book.’ So, I did and he put his hand on my rear end. I went berserk. I said, ‘What is your problem. I am reporting you.’ He laughed.
I went home and told my mother about it and, of course this was the 1960s, she said, ‘You must have misunderstood and he was just being friendly. Priests don’t do that.’ I said I had not misunderstood and it was the second time he had done it. I told her I was going to report it to the school and she said not to do that as I would cause a lot of trouble for myself and the school. She did not validate what I said, but swept in under the rug.
I was 17 years old. I was still in his class, but I never went back to him if I was having trouble. I would ask one of the students.
I never told anyone else about it. I felt I wasn’t believed back then, so what is the point now? But it was something that was always there and it made you very uncomfortable when you were in the company of males you might go somewhere with.
I become totally disillusioned with the Catholic Church. I do not have any trust in the Catholic Church. I can’t see any point personally in going to church.
I always had this in my mind even though I did not dwell on it and then this MeToo movement started and people were reporting things that happened to them even though a lot of years had gone by.
A lot of years had gone by for me also and I thought I should try to report this and maybe it would help me heal. I figured if I came forward and tried to state my case may be other people would come out and state what happened to them and help themselves heal. People who did not want to report because no one had listened to them either.
I did not know if it would go anywhere but I thought it might do something to make me have peace with this. It was important to me that maybe someone would listen this time. It was more than 55 years ago this happened to me.
I contacted Attorney Garabedian in October 2019.
The fact they did find it credible gave me some kind of validation. Now someone believes this.
He acted like it never happened and carried on with his teaching and I stayed away from him.
It was like he was saying it is your word against mine. You are a student and I am a priest here and an authority. You think someone is going to believe you?
I graduated in three or four months after and was happy to be out of there.
Sometimes among friends we would talk about a few teachers here and there — typical kids’ stuff, but there was a boy who asked what I thought about Father Huller and I just said I took his class and that I couldn’t wait to graduate and leave. And he said, ‘He is a little strange. He stares at me a lot and is always looking my way in class, more than others.’ I guess things were going on for a while with boys and girls.”