Lawsuit alleges Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley failed to prevent abuse at Catholic high school

Cardinal_OMalley_1.jpg Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Three former students at a Massachusetts Catholic high school have filed a lawsuit against Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley and other Church leaders because of alleged abuse committed by the school’s vice principal.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian on Monday announced that he had filed a May 5 lawsuit in Suffolk County Superior Court on behalf of three former students at Arlington Catholic High School in the northwest Boston suburb of Arlington.

The plaintiffs, who are not named in court papers, allege that former vice principal Stephen Biagioni abused them from about 2011 to 2016, the Boston Globe reported. The former students were between the ages of 15 and 17 at this time, they told reporters on Monday, according to WBUR News.

Biagioni, who became principal of Arlington Catholic High School, was placed on administrative leave in April 2016 pending the outcome of an investigation into alleged events at Sunday detention. At the time, vice principal Linda Butt said they had no reason to believe it involved allegations of sexual abuse, WCVB News reported.

The Archdiocese of Boston said that the allegations were reported to law enforcement when the high school became aware of them.

“We generally do not comment on active litigation,” Archdiocese of Boston spokesperson Terrence Donilon told CNA in a May 25 statement. “That said, we understand that certain of the allegations in this lawsuit were brought to the attention of Arlington Catholic High School in 2016 and were reported to the appropriate law enforcement and child welfare authorities at that time as part of Arlington Catholic’s ongoing commitment to provide a safe environment for young people at the school.”

“The administrator in question was subsequently removed from his position, and personnel from Arlington Catholic and the Archdiocese of Boston cooperated fully with the investigating authorities,” Donilon said.

The three have similar accounts. They said that during detention, Biagioni would wrestle students and during these incidents would force their heads up against his crotch area, including part of his genitalia. This was “explicit sexual behavior and lewd and lascivious conduct,” the lawsuit charges. The alleged victims suffer consequences including anger, flashbacks, and sleep problems.

“There is no doubt that the antennas of the Archdiocese of Boston should have been raised very high because of their history, allowing sexual abuse to occur for decades upon decades,” Garabedian said, according to the Boston Globe. “[O]ne would think by now they would have the proper safeguards in place to protect children.”

He said Church leaders should have done more to prevent abuse given their awareness of the history of abuse in Boston and because O’Malley since 2014 has held a significant role in the Catholic Church as head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Besides O’Malley, the lawsuit was filed against Bishop Robert Deeley and Bishop Peter Uglietto as defendants as well as three other Church leaders. Biagioni, the former principal, is not named in the suit as a defendant.

Deeley, who now serves as the bishop of Portland, Maine, served as vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Boston Archdiocese from 2011 to 2014, according to his biography on the Portland Diocese’s website. Uglietto has served as the archdiocese’s vicar general and moderator for the clergy since February 2014.

The lawsuit said Church leaders have a duty to “properly supervise employees” to ensure that employees do not use their positions in the archdiocese “as a tool for grooming and assaulting vulnerable children.” It alleges that Church leaders “knew, or were negligent in not knowing” that Biagioni was a danger to the students.

The Boston Globe reported that two other plaintiffs who allege they were sexually abused by Biagioni also filed lawsuits against Church officials last year. Garabedian told the outlet that Biagioni wasn’t named a defendant in all three cases for “strategic reasons” and declined to comment further.

Garabedian has filed lawsuits on behalf of clergy abuse victims for decades. CNA sought a copy of the complaint from Garabedian’s office but did not receive a response by publication.

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