ALLEGED VICTIM OF NUNS’ SEX ABUSE FEARS ARCHDIOCESE BANKRUPTCY WILL SILENCE HIM
May 21, 2020
NEW ORLEANS —
Warning: Some readers may find the graphic descriptions of abuse that follow to be objectionable.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans has filed for bankruptcy, and survivors of abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy say it’s just a maneuver meant to silence them. They include one man who says he was molested by nuns at a West Bank youth home in the 1970s, and he’s now urging other victims to speak out.
Jeff, whose real name isn’t being used, says his parents sent him to Madonna Manor in Marrero in 1976 for help with dyslexia. He was 11 years old at the time.
“I didn’t even understand what dyslexia was,” Jeff said.
During his one-year stay at Madonna Manor, he says three nuns forced him to perform individual sexual acts with them. He recalled being unconscious after a schoolyard injury and waking up in the infirmary to discover a nun performing oral sex on him.
Another nun, who taught music, coerced Jeff on two occasions into placing his hand up her dress, he said.
He said he doesn’t remember either of those nuns’ names, but he recalls the third who he claims abused him two to three nights a week over a four-month period: Sister Marie.
“She programmed me basically to do what she wanted,” he said. “She started off hitting me, coercing me into doing things.”
Jeff described Sister Marie as a large woman who would force him to perform oral sex on her. She would come to his dorm room and bring him up to her room at the manor, he said.
“She would close her legs around me in the middle of the performance and suffocate me, to the point where I … passed out on a number of occasions,” Jeff said.
More details on Jeff’s allegations are in a lawsuit he’s filed against the Archdiocese of New Orleans. That case is in limbo now, and the clock could start ticking on other abuse victims who haven’t come forward. The archdiocese is asking the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to set what’s called a bar date, which would set a deadline for any filing claims seeking damages.
Abuse survivors who could get settlements from the archdiocese are considered creditors in bankruptcy court, but they would be placed back in the line behind others who are owed debts, such as banks that have underwritten bond financing.
“They’re using this to again hide the truth,” said Mike, who settled an unrelated lawsuit against the archdiocese before it filed for bankruptcy. “By filing bankruptcy, that blocks the deposition of Archbishop (Gregory) Aymond and the release of thousands of pages regarding this case and other cases.”
Mike claims he was sexually abused by Deacon George Brignac, who now faces criminal charges. He said he’s speaking out now to encourage other victims to come forward
Attorney John Denenea represents Jeff and others who say they were abused by clergy. He wants the bankruptcy court to separate the victims’ lawsuits from the case and avoid any setting of deadlines that would close the door on future claimants.
The archdiocese’s bankruptcy filing is the latest move in an effort to shirk their responsibility to abuse victims, he said.
“There’s been this consistent drumbeat about this idea of transparency from the archdiocese,” Denenea said, “only to be found (its) covering up and holding back documents that can provide the truth to individuals … who know what went on is terrible but for the longest time thought it was just themselves who were abused.”
Jeff, who’s now 55 years old, said he started running away from Madonna Manor once he was 12, and the nuns eventually told his parents he wouldn’t be allowed to return. It wasn’t until he was 16 that he decided to tell his mother what the nuns had done to him.
“Being a devout Catholic, she said, ‘No, it never happened. You should never speak of it.’”
The trauma led him to distrust any authority figure growing up, said Jeff, who said he only has a sixth-grade education as a result.
Any financial return from his lawsuit is secondary to getting the church to admit it’s responsible and apologize, Jeff said.
“I’m tired of the pain. I want other people to come forward and get the help they deserve.”
The Archdiocese issued the following statement for this story:
“The Archdiocese of New Orleans has operated in compliance with the Charter for Protection of Youth and Young People established in 2002. In addition to support through our Victims Assistance Coordinator over the years, the archbishop has offered to meet and has met to offer pastoral care to victims and survivors of abuse who have come forward. We pray daily for the victims of abuse. Their healing has been and continues to be a priority for us, however, we cannot comment on matters pending before the courts.”
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