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May 11, 2004

Deaf Pupils Accuse Nuns of Abuse at Mass. School

From: Wired News - May 11, 2004

By Greg Frost

BOSTON (Reuters) - Roman Catholic nuns subjected students at a Boston-area school for the deaf to sexual, physical and mental abuse -- including rape -- according to a lawsuit filed on Tuesday.

More than two years after a pedophile priest scandal erupted in the Archdiocese of Boston, attorney Mitchell Garabedian filed a lawsuit on behalf of nine former students of the Boston School for the Deaf, which closed in 1994.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, charges that nuns at the school, along with a priest and other unidentified staff members, abused students between 1944 and 1977.

Garabedian said some of the abuse may have been punishment for students who tried to use sign language to communicate.

He said the Boston School for the Deaf neither taught nor tolerated the use of sign language, and instead encouraged pupils to use oral language.

"They were supposed to receive an education. Instead they were sexually molested, physically abused and mentally tormented," Garabedian told a news conference where he was flanked by some two dozen former pupils.

"If they were caught using American Sign Language, they would be punished. Some would have their hands tied behind their backs for a couple of hours," he said, adding more lawsuits may follow. "This is ugly."

Some plaintiffs said nuns shoved their heads down toilet bowls. Others accused nuns of washing out their mouths with soap. Some said they were beaten, crammed into tiny lockers or forced to stand in dark closets.


Until it closed, the Randolph, Massachusetts, school was staffed by members of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, a religious community that traces its roots to 17th-century France.

The nuns said they only learned of the allegations when the complaint was made public, and that they would begin an immediate investigation.

"With respect to the accusations of abuse against our sisters and others ... we will proceed with sensitivity and dignity for the alleged abused and with a sincere reverence for the truth and respect for civil and canon law," the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Boston said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Boston archdiocese, which was not named in the complaint, said the church could not do anything until it received a copy of the lawsuit.

Several plaintiffs said they tried to complain to other nuns or their parents but in many cases their pleas were ignored or elicited further punishment.

James Sullivan said in 1960, when he was about 12, a nun slapped him across the face and smashed his head into a window, which broke. The nun also forced him to pull his pants down in front of his classmates, hit him with a yardstick, and pulled his hair, he said.

He tried to tell his parents, but they would not listen.

"My parents loved the teachers and the principal. ... They felt that the nuns were right," Sullivan, speaking through a sign language interpreter, told reporters.

"It made me furious. I had a horrible temper," added the former pupil. "I really don't know who I am to this day."

The lawsuit also said Sullivan was repeatedly raped in the dormitory room by older students at the school.

Plaintiff Violet Guertin said another nun digitally raped her when she was between 7 and 8 years old. Guertin said the nun confined her to dark closets for long periods and forced her head under water in a toilet bowl until she passed out.

Another plaintiff, Paul Larocque, said a nun fondled his genitals when he was about 7.

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