Christian Brothers settle suit with 400 sex abuse victims

The Roman Catholic religious order that runs Brother Rice High School in Chicago and St. Laurence High School in Burbank didn’t want Brother Edward Chrysostom Courtney in Chicago any longer. So in the early 1970s, the Irish Christian Brothers shipped him to the West Coast and kept the troubling reasons to themselves.

When he was finally ousted from the parochial system 10 years later, landed in a public school in rural Washington and sexually abused a boy there, those reasons came to light. Law enforcement finally got involved. The Christian Brothers dismissed Courtney from the order shortly before he pleaded guilty to indecent liberties with a child in Washington and became a convicted sex offender.

On Thursday, more than 80 alumni of both schools plus Leo High School, also once run by the order, learned they would receive compensation from a lawsuit against the order for allowing Courtney and 11 other men to teach despite allegations that those men had sexually abused children.

The $16.5 million payout to 400 accusers nationwide will come out of a Chapter 11 reorganization settlement between creditors and the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers North American Province, known as Irish Christian Brothers. In addition, the order agreed to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for brothers accused of abuse.

Rising legal costs prompted the Christian Brothers to file for bankruptcy in April 2011. At that time, the religious order notified alumni that they could file claims through U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

“Intense negotiations during the past three months have led to painful concessions in bringing about this mutually agreed upon settlement,” Brother Kevin Griffith, deputy province leader said in a statement. “This settlement will allow an opportunity to recommit ourselves to bringing the Gospel of Jesus and the charism of our Founder, Blessed Edmund Rice, to those we serve. The protection of children must remain the highest of priorities in creating safe environments at our ministry sites and in our communities. Let us continue to pray for all those affected by child sexual abuse and ask the Lord for healing and reconciliation.”

Unable to get restitution in federal bankruptcy court until Thursday, more than 30 Chicago-area men filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court earlier this month. More than half of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit said they were sexually abused by Courtney at all three Chicago-area schools.

The order still runs Brother Rice and St. Laurence, but it severed ties with Leo in 1992. The order is not the same as the De La Salle Christian Brothers who run Chicago’s De La Salle Institute.

Nine other brothers and two laymen also are named in the suit: Dennis Bonebreak, Robert Brouillette, Edmund Corrigan, Thomas Duffin, C.B. Irwin, Daniel McDonough, Paul Reycraft, Michael Trujillo and Phillip Vorlick. The suit also named football coach Joe Johnston and wrestling coach Robert Cachor. Johnston died in 1987. Cachor retired in 1998. He denied the allegations on Thursday.

It’s unclear if the order has substantiated any of the allegations against the accused brothers. Unlike many dioceses, the Christian Brothers don’t publicize the names of credibly accused clergy.

In addition to Courtney, Brouillette was convicted in December 1999 of exchanging child pornography with a New Hampshire police officer posing as a trader in an online chat room. Those images were among the roughly 400 images on computer disks seized by police at the Joliet home Brouillette shared with three other Christian Brothers.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers said it took 10 years of litigation against the Christian Brothers to unearth proof that the order and other church officials quietly shuttled Courtney around the country knowing he was a danger to children but not telling law enforcement. After documents surfaced that the order previously said didn’t exist, lawyers sued for fraud.

In minutes from a 1974 meeting, one brother wrote that “Chris is to have no contact with Rice, Leo or Laurence in any way, shape or form.” He went on to become the principal of the elementary school at St. Alphonsus’ Parish in Seattle.

Six years later, the Rev. Jeffrey Sarkies, then pastor of St. Alphonsus, “reluctantly” accepted his resignation.

“Ed, it is important that you understand the reason we were able to keep the matter that led to your submitting a letter of resignation quiet was because the parents concerned, who also admired your abilities, were assured … that you would then terminate,” Sarkies wrote.

“To alter the course would be to run the very real risk of turning this situation into a cause celebre thereby doing damage to your name and reputation and that of the school.”

Chicago Tribune