The Seattle Archdiocese has agreed to pay $12,125,000 to 30 men who allege it was responsible for sexual abuse they suffered as children at O’Dea High School, in Seattle, and Briscoe Memorial School, a former orphanage and boarding school in Kent, Washington.
The majority of claims were filed after two asset-holding corporations of the Congregation of Christian Brothers of Ireland, a Catholic religious order, filed for bankruptcy in April 2011. The Christian Brothers operated O’Dea and Briscoe for decades, but both schools were owned by the Seattle Archdiocese.
In lawsuits filed in King County Superior Court, the men alleged both the Christian Brothers and the Seattle Archdiocese failed to protect them from known abusers. Approximately ten cases had been filed against the Archdiocese at the time of the Christian Brothers bankruptcy, but that number tripled after the bankruptcy court ordered that notice be given to potential abuse survivors in Seattle.
According to Seattle sexual abuse attorney Michael T. Pfau, the settlement will put an end to an ugly chapter for the Archdiocese involving these two schools, and will help bring closure to both the Archdiocese and his clients: “The Archdiocese, under the leadership of Archbishop Sartain, did the right thing and acknowledged the tremendous amount of pain and suffering that our clients, their families, and our community have endured. This settlement is the first step in allowing all parties to focus on the future. It also allows the Archdiocese to move beyond its partnership with the Christian Brothers, a relationship that led to the abuse of scores of children.”
In the past decade, Pfau and his law partner, Jason P. Amala, have settled more than 75 claims against the Christian Brothers and the Seattle Archdiocese for over $35 million.
During the litigation, Pfau and Amala uncovered dozens of records that illustrate the abuse problem that has plagued the Catholic Church. For example, 11 of the men claimed they were sexually abused by former O’Dea teacher Edward Courtney, who court records show had been removed from four schools for abusing children before he was transferred to O’Dea. Just a few months after arriving in Seattle in September 1974, one of the men complained to his older brother that Courtney had sexually abused him. The complaint prompted the man’s older brother to meet with a vice principal of O’Dea who assured him the situation would be handled. However, Courtney was not removed from O’Dea until 1978, even though records show O’Dea officials had continued to receive reports that he was sexually abusing children.
Another 5 of the men claimed they were sexually abused at O’Dea by former teacher G.A. Kealy, who students openly referred to as “Feely Kealy.” In a 1963 letter, the O’Dea principal, Matt Popish, asked for Kealy to be transferred from O’Dea because of “the complaints parents had made to Bishop Gill about him.” Popish noted “the Bishop suggested to me that it would be better for all concerned if he were not to be around.” Two of the men alleged they had told Popish about the abuse, but claimed nothing was done to protect them or other students.
About half of the plaintiffs alleged they were abused at Briscoe, including a number who attended the school in the final years before it was sold in 1969. In court pleadings, Pfau and Amala cited a 1966 letter where one of the Christian Brothers at Briscoe described the deplorable conditions at the school:
“Parents are often taken to Court for the very same neglect and abuse for which the school and the American Province have been guilty. This damaging atmosphere has existed not only during the past year but in varying degrees during all the years that I have known the school. It is not only far worse now, but has reached immoral and unethical limits. It is my feeling that the Congregation’s conscience is guilty of social injustice, immoral practices, and lack of charity as regards Briscoe School.”
The men will also receive settlement funds from the Christian Brothers bankruptcy proceeding. According to Amala, the bankruptcy resulted in the near liquidation of the Christian Brothers in North America: “The bankruptcy plan required the Christian Brothers to liquidate the vast majority of their cash, property, and other assets, and to distribute the proceeds to abuse survivors. They were allowed to keep just enough to take care of their older members who did not abuse children.”
The bankruptcy plan also required the Christian Brothers to implement a number of policies and procedures that are designed to protect children from sexual abuse. The policies and procedures, which were drafted by a committee of abuse survivors, were the starting point of settlement negotiations in the bankruptcy. According to Pfau: “Our clients wanted to make sure history does not repeat itself. They insisted we protect future generations in addition to holding the Christian Brothers accountable for what they suffered.”