Accuser Says Goal Is to Keep Boys Safe
By Stephen Hegarty
St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
December 14, 1994
The Jesuit priest and the lawyer sat under the bright lights of television cameras for nearly an hour, answering difficult questions about ugly accusations.
The story was sensational: The principal of Jesuit High School, Thomas Mulryan, suddenly had been relieved of his duties amid allegations of sexual abuse involving three boys in Rome three decades ago.
After all the questions and answers, after the television lights dimmed and the tape recorders clicked off, a few fundamental questions remained:
How did accusations from 30 years ago at a Catholic boarding school in Rome suddenly become a full-blown crisis at a Catholic high school in Tampa?
And how could the allegations against Mulryan be proved or disproved now that they were out in the open?
Mulryan again denied the allegations Tuesday. Meanwhile, school officials and one of the accusers made it clear that they did not intend for the story to go public as it did. They described Monday as a frantic day in which impossible and irrevocable decisions had to be made with little time for reflection.
"I was hoping to do it all quietly, hoping he would retire, take his pension," said Larry Roeder, one of the accusers and now an officer with the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. "It didn't work out that way."
Officials at Jesuit learned of the decades-old allegations during the summer. After they became convinced there were no similar allegations during Mulryan's tenure at Jesuit, officials contemplated removing Mulryan quietly at the end of the semester. After all, there were no criminal charges against him, and the accusers merely wanted Mulryan not to have contact with students.
Plans changed when a newspaper reporter from the Tampa Tribune called Monday about the case.
"It was clear the Tribune had enough of the story to print something even without our response," said the Rev. James Bradley, president of Jesuit High School.
At that point, Bradley decided it was no longer a question of whether the matter went public, but how. Within a matter of hours, school officials were explaining the puzzling events that involved coincidence, confession and catharsis.
In an interview Tuesday, Larry Roeder said he tried to report the incident when it happened 30 years ago at the Notre Dame International School, but that the headmaster and even his parents didn't believe him.
"We're talking about 30 years of accumulated pain, not being able to do anything," Roeder said. "People didn't believe things like that in those days."
Roeder, now 44, gave this account of the incident: He was a 13-year-old attending the boarding school in Rome, and Mulryan was a brother at the school where he ran the snack bar and bookstore. One day, Mulryan told Roeder he would have to take a physical to work in the bookstore. In a dressing room, Mulryan unsuccessfully attempted to rape him, Roeder said.
The incident resurfaced when Roeder told his story to a friend. That friend, coincidentally, attended a reunion soon after and learned that a classmate had a similar experience with Mulryan.
After those two cases were unearthed, the brothers of the Congregation of the Holy Cross sent letters inquiring whether other former students had problems. The letter did not mention Mulryan's name. A third accuser came forward.
Roeder said when he learned that Mulryan was now a principal at a boys school he felt compelled to do something.
"We're not trying to sue him; we don't want money," Roeder said. "We're not trying to get him arrested. I just felt we had a moral imperative to see to it that this never happened again.
"I don't want anyone else going through this. It's impossible to describe the frustration." Roeder said he felt a sense of catharsis after reporting the incident. He also said he knew of a fourth classmate who said he had a similar experience.
Learning of the third accuser in the past two weeks led Bradley to conclude that some action might have to be taken against Mulryan, who worked at Jesuit since 1988, including 2 1/2 years as principal.
Monday, Bradley notified Mulryan that he would be placed on administrative leave with pay. Then Bradley conferred with Jesuit attorney Byrne Litschgi and Jesuit supporter James Strenski of Public Communications Inc., a Tampa public relations firm, to decide what to do next.
"It was my recommendation that we describe it like it was (and) not to hide anything," Litschgi said. He planned to be at Jesuit for a meeting with a Tribune reporter at 5:30 p.m. Monday, but he ended up walking into a full-fledged news conference.
Mulryan and his attorney also were unaware of the plans for a news conference. Bradley explained that, like so many decisions Monday, the decision to hold a news conference was made with little time.
"It all happened so very quickly," Bradley said. "The statement we'd prepared was just coming off our printer as I was going out to speak with the students."
In part, the decision to take action against Mulryan and to go public with the matter was forced on Bradley. But there were other considerations.
"The Catholic Church has come under fire in these situations for just moving people from place to place," he said.
Mulryan, who lives in Safety Harbor, remained silent Tuesday. His attorney, Terry Brocklehurst, reiterated Mulryan's claims of innocence and questioned the motivations of the accusers.
"He's going to take advantage of the leave and assess what the damage is," Brocklehurst said. "At this point, there's nothing he can do. He can't disprove something from 30 years ago."
Brocklehurst said that until Tuesday, Mulryan didn't know the names of his accusers. Upon hearing Roeder's name Tuesday, Mulryan didn't recognize it, Brocklehurst said.
He said he and Mulryan had not discussed filing a lawsuit.
"These things are insidious, aren't they?" Brocklehurst said. "There are no charges, no beginning, middle or end to this.
"This could happen to Father Bradley tomorrow. It could happen to anybody. And what do you do once the words are uttered? There's nothing you can do."
Whether true or untrue, the allegations against Mulryan surfaced at a time when similar accusations have caused the Catholic Church great embarrassment and great expense.
Lawyers in a sexual assault case in Boston recently estimated that since the late 1980s the bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States have paid out more than $ 500-million to settle abuse claims. According to the Washington Post, the lawyers estimated that with a number of unsettled cases, the figure might double to $ 1-billion dollars in the next few years.
The church has been working to formulate an institutional response to such problems.
Judging by the Mulryan case, formulating a response can be a thorny matter indeed.
"This is an impossible situation," said lawyer Chris Hoyer, a former prosecutor now in private practice, who is not involved in the case. "On one hand, you have to give consideration, heavy consideration, to the idea that this might not be true. You have to consider the rights of the accused.
"On the other hand, they face weighty consequences if it is true once they receive notice of it. What if this kind of thing happened here and the school knew about the past allegations?
"You're left to wonder, "What can you do?' Frankly, I think they did a pretty commendable job with an impossible situation."
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