In bankruptcy, religious order tries to cap damages from molestation charges

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Historical photo of Brother Robert Brouillette

The Irish Christian Brothers, who founded Brother Rice and Leo high schools in Chicago, and St. Laurence High School in Burbank, are trying to cap damages from allegations some members of their order molested the children they taught.

The Brothers are in bankruptcy, having filed for Chapter 11 reorganization protection. And so they’ve set Aug. 1 as the last date anyone can file sex abuse claims against any members of the order.

“After that date, if you’ve been abused, physically or sexually, you will not be able to bring a lawsuit against the Christian Brothers,” said attorney Mark McKenna, who has sued the brothers on behalf of Chicago-area victims.

Over the last several weeks, letters about the case and the deadline were sent to alumni who attended the schools during years when known or alleged abusers were assigned there.

Three brothers who at one time worked in Chicago have been identified as sexual predators in lawsuits filed in other states, primarily Washington, where the order also ran schools and an orphanage: Brother Edward Courtney, Brother Robert Brouillette, and Brother D.P. Ryan.

Christopher Hurley, another victims’ attorney, said Christian Brothers leaders in Illinois have a documented history of transferring abusive brothers among schools to protect their reputation and minimize liability.

“Courtney was here at all three schools, moved from one to the other, because he was having problems with children at every one of them,” Hurley said. Leaders of the order “sent him for psychiatric care because of it, but then put him right back into these schools even though they knew he couldn’t be cured.”

Hurley said internal documents from the 1970s show that complaints at St. Laurence led the brothers to bar Courtney from having contact “in any way, shape or form” at the Chicago-area schools. Four months later, the same leaders sent Courtney to Seattle, where he continued abusing children for the next 10 years.

Some of that abuse occurred in public schools where, court records show, Courtney taught after leaving the order in 1983. In 1998, Courtney pleaded guilty to a felony indecent-liberties charge, and served probation, according to court records.

Brouillette, who also had worked at St. Laurence as a counselor, was found in 1998 with child pornography on his home computer while he was living with the order in Joliet and commuting to an administrative job at Rice. He was caught in a police sting while arranging a meeting online with a pal he thought was a 12-year-old boy.

Since his sentencing in 2000, Brouillette spent his four years of probation at a counseling center for clergy with sexual problems near St. Louis. In 2004, the order kicked him out. He has since changed his name to Robert Sullivan.

Ryan was principal at Brother Rice High School in Michigan in the 1960s, where he was in charge of Courtney for a time, court records show. The attorneys didn’t know what had happened to Ryan, or even if he’s still alive.

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