The Christian Brothers owned and operated a number of schools across the country. We have uncovered a large amount of evidence regarding their role at many of those schools, including their transfer of abusive Brothers between schools. The following summarizes a small amount of that evidence regarding two of those schools: Briscoe Memorial School and O’Dea High School.
Briscoe Memorial School
Over the past eight years, we have represented more than thirty-five former students of Briscoe Memorial School who were sexually abused at the now-defunct Briscoe Memorial School. Briscoe was an orphanage and boarding school located a short distance from Seattle. Like many of the Christian Brothers’ schools, it was owned by the local Archdiocese (the Seattle Archdiocese) and jointly operated by the Archdiocese and the Christian Brothers.
A large amount of evidence corroborates our clients’ claims about widespread sexual abuse at Briscoe. For example, in 1950, the Superior General of the Christian Brothers in Ireland wrote to the leader of the Christian Brothers in the United States and reprimanded him for how he handled Christian Brother Vincent Michael O’Sullivan:
“From your letter it appears that there are at least four cases (very possibly more) of giving alcoholic drinks to boys with the intent of making them accomplices in sin, then getting them to undress and taking them to bed with him… [o]ne fears, in view of his unsatisfactory record for so long that things like the above, only come to light now, have been happening well before this. …
I am afraid that you have shown a mistaken compassion for the offender. Persons who have fallen, as he has done, rarely respond to such consideration. You ought to have reported the case to me and have let him know you had done so. To hush up the matter, perhaps only made him feel less guilty and less in need of mending his ways.”
O’Dea High School
While the Briscoe cases involve allegations against a number of Christian Brothers, the organization has also faced more than a dozen claims over allegations of sexual abuse by one former Christian Brother, Edward Courtney.
According to one of their internal documents, the Christian Brothers first learned of abuse by Brother Courtney in the 1960s while he was at Sacred Heart in New York. Over the next several years, they transferred him between four schools in Chicago and Michigan, removing him each time over allegations of child sexual abuse. In March 1974, minutes from their Provincial Council show the Brothers voted to prevent Courtney from having contact “in any way, shape or form” at his prior schools,” but a little over a month later, they debated whether to make him a groundskeeper or send him to O’Dea High School in Seattle. In September 1974, they voted to send him to Seattle.
Over the next four years, internal documents show the Christian Brothers and the Seattle Archdiocese learned that Courtney was molesting students at the school but did not remove him. For example, in approximately 1975, the school’s principal, vice-principal, and religious superior were confronted with allegations that Courtney had molested a student. A year later, an internal visitation report described how Courtney was a “constant source of anxiety” for the school’s principal who “cannot ignore complaints coming to his office.”
Courtney was not removed from the school until 1978. According to the Provincial at the time: “This past spring of 1978 there was another confrontation of parents with (sic) Principal telling of three incidents during the year when their son had been abused. We were pretty well at the end of our options at this point.” The same letter acknowledged the danger that Courtney posed to children: “I do not believe he should be teaching at all and that he would be much better off physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually anywhere except in a teaching Congregation.”
Despite this conclusion, the principal of O’Dea, John McGraw, wrote Courtney a letter of recommendation and praised him as a “tremendous asset” who “would be an excellent addition to any school’s administration.”
Although Courtney left O’Dea High School in 1978, he did not leave Seattle or quit teaching. Instead, the Seattle Archdiocese appointed him as the principal of St. Alphonsus Parish School, a grade school in Seattle. A year later, Courtney was removed from that position after parents complained to the school’s pastor, Jeff Sarkies, that Courtney had molested their sons. Courtney left the grade school after meeting with Sarkies, the Archdiocese’s lawyer, and its Office of Education. According to a letter written by Sarkies to Courtney, they cut a deal. The Archdiocese would keep the matter “quiet” so long as Courtney left immediately. Sarkies advised Courtney that “to alter that course would be to run the very real risk of turning this situation into a cause célèbre thereby doing damage to your name and reputation and that of the school.”
In line with that agreement, the Archdiocese certified Courtney as fit for teaching and wrote him a letter of recommendation. According to Amala, the decision reflects how little Church officials cared about protecting children. “Rather than call the police or take any action against his teaching certificate, the Archdiocese re-endorsed him, wrote him a letter of recommendation, and then cut him loose into the public school system. They were more concerned with protecting their reputation than protecting children in the public schools. Their own letter says as much. And as they knew he would, he kept molesting children.”
In 1982, Courtney moved to the small farming community of Othello, Washington, where he continued working as a teacher. According to the superintendent at the time, “we were impressed with his history of teaching assignments and letters of recommendation.”
After four years in Othello, a boy’s family went to the police with allegations that he was sexually abused by Courtney. Courtney fled to Nevada, but was eventually extradited back to Washington and pled guilty to indecent liberties. He surrendered his teaching certificates, but he never served a day in jail. Last year, Pfau and Amala settled three claims with the Christian Brothers and the Seattle Archdiocese on behalf of three men who were sexually abused by Courtney in Othello.