Settlement in Child Sex Abuse Cases at NJ Catholic School
One of the Christian Brothers at Bergen Catholic High School was known to ask students to pull down their pants and underwear so he could discipline them with a leather strap or leer at their naked backsides. Another was feared for his habit of pinning students in their desks as he reached his hand down the back of their pants.
“These are Christ’s representatives on earth,” a former student, Peter Alrutz, said he was told when he attended the school in the early 1960s. “You’re taught to do whatever they tell you. And then all of a sudden the people who are supposed to be protecting you are abusing you.”
Alrutz was among 21 alleged child sexual abuse victims who settled with the parochial school in November for $1.9 million. Two advocates for victims of sexual abuse held a news conference on Monday in front of the school in Oradell to announce the settlement.
Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer representing seven of the people included in the settlement, said that nothing had changed legally since November but that “victims want to come forward now.”
Related: Read the settlement (PDF)
He said that at the time of the alleged abuse between 1963 and 1978, his clients were between 13 and 17 years old. Now between 53 and 68, the former students had suffered abuse at the hands of members of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, a Catholic order that runs the school, he said.
According to a copy of the settlement provided by Garabedian, the 21 alleged victims agreed to the payout on Nov. 25, 2015, in exchange for forgoing civil litigation against Bergen Catholic High School.
“The payment is made without BCHS admitting any wrongdoing, or any guilt or liability,” the settlement reads. It also says that the $1.9 million amount “does not relate or correlate” to the merits of the allegations.
The payments were supposed to be disbursed by the first week of December, with each award ranging from $65,000 to $115,000, according to the settlement. An arbitrator was to decide how much each alleged victim would receive by weighing “the nature of the abuse suffered,” “the duration and frequency of the abuse,” “the extent of injuries suffered” and “whether the claim is within the New Jersey statute of limitations,” the settlement says.
The agreement was signed by Brother Brian M. Walsh, the high school’s president.
Road to Recovery, Inc., hosted the news conference outside the high school on Monday. The organization was founded in 2005 to assist victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy and has since expanded to assist all victims of sexual abuse.
The high school’s principal did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Monday. He did not return a phone call and, later, a secretary said he was in the school but would not speak to a reporter.
Thomas Herten, a lawyer representing Bergen Catholic last year during settlement talks, also could not be reached on Monday.
Alrutz, on the other hand, stepped forward on Monday to share for the first time his story of abuse at the hands of a Christian Brother. He attended Bergen Catholic from 1963 to 1966.
“I felt like I wanted to do anything I could to make sure it didn’t happen again to other kids,” he said of his motivation to make his allegations public.
As a student, Alrutz said he was helping an administrator move books in a storage room when the brother pulled his shirt out of the back of his pants and then reached down his pants to grab his butt.
“I’m wrestling with him and trying to get him to let go of me,” he said, recounting the incident. “My recollection from that point on is not real clear. I do remember specifically walking back to my classroom by myself feeling ashamed and guilty.”
Alrutz, now 67 and a resident of Austin, Texas, said he had told his twin brother about the incident but had never reported it to the authorities.
“At that time, I didn’t even know there was such a thing called sexual abuse,” he said. “I had no language, vocabulary, understanding, nothing.”
William Moakler, another former student who was part of the settlement reached with Bergen Catholic, said the school in the late 1950s and early 1960s had a pervasive culture of physical and emotional abuse that went hand-in-hand with the sexual abuse.
“The physical abuse was unbelievable,” he said of the brothers. “One guy was 6’6”, a big guy, and he would punch students as hard as he could.”
Moakler, 72, who now resides in the Bronx and was not a client of Garabedian, said a brother who taught French had disciplined him about a half-dozen times by taking him into a storage room, demanding that he pull down his pants and underwear then smacking his bare backside with a leather strap. With other students, Moakler said, the brother would order that they expose themselves as if he were going to discipline them with the strap only to stare at them instead.
That brother then went on to teach at a school in Rochester, N.Y., Moakler said.
“Did Bergen Catholic reach out to that school after he left?” he asked.
1 in 5 New York Kids Are Sexually Abused. Help Prevent That
The CDC reports that 1 in 5 children are sexually abused.
9 out of 10 of the perpetrators are never brought to justice and never appear on sex offender registries.
They are protected by New York State laws.
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