Two more sex abuse suits filed against ABQ orphanage

Two more men have filed lawsuits alleging they suffered sexual and physical abuse while living at the St. Anthony Home for Boys as children. (Source: Library Of Congress)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Two more former students of the now-closed St. Anthony Home for Boys came forward Monday to file childhood sexual abuse lawsuits against nuns who ran the orphanage after a top superior at the religious order recently stated she didn’t believe children had been molested there, their attorneys say.

The two men “are not motivated by compensation, as the sexual abuse happened many decades ago, but primarily want the truth to be known, and are asking the Court to put into public archives all documents that point to the need for accountability and transparency,” said their attorneys Brad D. Hall and Levi Monagle in a statement on Monday.

The allegations in both lawsuits focus primarily on the conduct of a specific nun at the now-closed orphanage in Albuquerque, which was operated by the Sisters of St. Francis, based in Colorado Springs.

The new cases come just weeks after the filing of a similar lawsuit, which alleged sexual abuse in the late 1950s and early 1960s by nuns, a chaplain and traveling priests at the home.

Meanwhile, the Journal has learned that the same orphanage was at the heart of a clergy childhood abuse lawsuit settled out of court 25 years ago by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and Sisters of St. Francis.

In that case, a woman claimed nuns at the school took her and her sister for “cleansing rituals” with holy water, after which nuns and priests performed “non-consensual sexual acts and physical abuse.”

The former school chaplain named in that 1994 lawsuit is listed on the archdiocese list of priests who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse.

The orphanage took in thousands of children over the years until it was closed in the early 1970s. Some students’ parents had died; others were placed there because their parents could not take care of them.

The two new cases filed Monday contend the two plaintiffs realized in “August 2020, for the first time that there were connections between the childhood sexual abuse at St. Anthony’s and the issues and harm (they) have been dealing with” their entire lives, the lawsuits contend.

Both men, who are from different communities and don’t know each other, contacted Hall’s office after reading an Aug. 7 Journal story about the lawsuit filed by another former St. Anthony student, Hall said.

The men took issue with a statement in the story from Sister Marietta Spenner, the current Provincial of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Colorado Springs. Her statement was included in a response sent to the Journal by Mount St. Francis CEO Gail Hickert.

Spenner was quoted as saying, “I am deeply troubled by the recent allegations that have been brought forth. I do not believe that anything like that ever occurred at Saint Anthony’s Orphanage. The mission of our Sisters today, as it has been for decades, is to continue the mission of Jesus: standing in solidarity with those who are in any way poor and powerless, and addressing the unmet needs of our time with justice, mercy and compassion.”

On Monday, Hickert told the Journal in an email that she had no response to the new lawsuits “beyond that previously provided.”

The lawsuits are an attempt “to try to get the truth out there,” Hall and Monagle said in their statement.

One of the two plaintiffs, named as John Doe 196, was placed at the orphanage by his father at age 9. His mother died four years earlier and the family lived in a small rural northern New Mexico community. He alleges once his father placed him there for “education and guidance,” he was beaten for crying and force fed by one nun in particular, referred to as Sister Clare.

The lawsuit alleges that, as a vulnerable child resident of a full-time boarding school in the mid-1950s, he also was sexually abused by Sister Clare, who would allegedly sit on the edge of his bunk bed at night, and fondle him and other boys. He noticed her sitting by other boys with her hand under the sheet “as a regular night occurrence.”

Journal efforts to try to locate Sister Clare on Monday weren’t successful.

The lawsuit states that on a field trip to the Rio Grande Zoo, the boy managed to slip away and began “running as fast as he could, sobbing.” He didn’t know anyone in Albuquerque or where he was going, but once he reached Fourth Street, a car honked and pulled up next to him, the lawsuit states.

The couple inside, whom he didn’t know, asked what was wrong and he told them he was running to his grandmother’s house, not realizing it was about 150 miles away.

“Plaintiff refers to this woman in the car as his “guardian angel” and her husband “as a saint,” the lawsuit states. The couple ended up driving the boy to his grandmother’s home. Once she learned about the “emotional and physical abuse at the School,” she refused to return him and raised him herself, the lawsuit alleges.

In the other lawsuit filed Monday, John Doe 195 contended he was a resident at the home from 1961 to 1966 after his single mother could no longer care for him.

He too contends he was preyed upon by Sister Clare, who slept in a room directly off the boy’s dormitory. The sexual abuse occurred at least weekly for four years, his lawsuit alleges.

He “never knew when Sr. Clare would appear at his bedside and so slept in a constant state of fear and great apprehension.” She also was “physically abusive” in giving him more than 100 beatings with a wooden paddle, the lawsuit added.

“Upon information and belief, Sr. Clare sexually abused many children over the years,” John Doe 195’s lawsuit states. The Sisters failed to warn or disclose to parents or relatives “that children were, or had in the past, been seriously harmed by rampant sexual abuse occurring at all levels” of St. Anthony Home for Boys, the lawsuit added.

After the religious order settled the 1994 lawsuit filed by a woman referred to as Jane Doe, the Sisters of St. Francis failed to “reach out to all students who had attended the School” or “see if other victims were out there struggling alone with their nightmares, who might need professional help,” according to the John Doe 195 lawsuit.

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