Suits Against Order Involve 41 Plaintiffs

By Peter Smith
September 12, 2004

[See also the main article of this feature.]

Forty-one plaintiffs have filed suit since July 15 against the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, alleging they were sexually or physically abused between the 1930s and 1970s by nuns or others supervised by the nuns.

Most of the plaintiffs allege abuse at Louisville-area orphanages run by the nuns - St. Thomas for boys, St. Vincent for girls and the later combined St. Thomas-St. Vincent Orphanage near Anchorage. Some of the plaintiffs also allege they were abused at schools where the Sisters of Charity taught.

Thirty-two plaintiffs are alleging sexual abuse by Monsignor Herman J. Lammers, a resident chaplain at St. Thomas-St. Vincent. Fifteen nuns are also accused of sexual or physical abuse or both, but some are only partially identified in suits.

At the heart of each complaint is an accusation that the order knew about the abuse and covered it up, an allegation the order has denied.

Of the nuns the order has been able to account for, one, partially identified in a lawsuit as Sister Mary Jane, is still a member of the order and has been removed from ministry pending investigation, according to spokeswoman Barbara Qualls. Two others, partially identified in lawsuits as Sister Jean and Sister Joseph Anthony, left the order many years ago, and the rest have died, she said.

Two men associated with the orphanage, identified as "Mr. Carney" and "Mr. Peak," are also accused of molestation.

All but two of the plaintiffs have filed their complaints as part of a single lawsuit. Their attorney, William McMurry, has amended the case several times to add plaintiffs. The other two plaintiffs each filed separate lawsuits through their lawyer, Victor Tackett Jr. McMurry has since become lead counsel on those two cases and Tackett has become co-counsel.

Most clients are seeking damages only for alleged sexual abuse, though one of Tackett's clients also alleged physical abuse in her suit.

McMurry contends the nuns covered up sexual abuse and that the statute of limitations, or time limits on suing for old offenses, should not apply.

He said that while some people report being physically abused, the nuns never covered up that practice, so it is too late to sue.


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