California Religious Order to Pay $6.3 to
By Katherine Seligman, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, December 24, 2004
Three former students at De La Salle High School in Concord
who say they were sexually abused by counselors or teachers
have received $6.3 million to settle three lawsuits against
the Catholic order that operates the school, attorneys and
plaintiffs said Thursday.
The former students, all now in their 30s and 40s, say the
alleged abuse by members of the Christian Brothers Order happened
during the mid-1970s to early '80s. One man says a teacher
molested him on a school-sanctioned ski trip, and a second
says a counselor abused him at a youth retreat in Napa.
In a third case, a former student says a different counselor
repeatedly molested him during sessions off campus. The Christian
Brothers order, which runs the prestigious private school,
had transferred that counselor to Concord despite knowing
that he had relationships with "sexual overtones"
at another school, according to a 1968 letter from a Christian
Brothers provincial leader that came to light after the lawsuit
"His behavior around me was as if he was entitled to
touch me at any time, " said plaintiff Chris Barbour,
41. He said the counselor had molested him during sessions
that he had sought out as a result of an earlier incidence
of sexual abuse unconnected to the Christian Brothers.
"Here I was, a molested kid and a freaked-out kid, and
I end up with a man who had a history that the Christian Brothers
were aware of," he said.
Barbour said he had suffered silently for years, then had
eventually told his parents. Now an optometrist in Oregon,
Barbour said he was still working to overcome the grief and
shame he felt from the abuse. He said he had battled an eating
disorder and his own sense of self-doubt.
Filing his lawsuit last year in Contra Costa County Superior
Court, he said, helped him begin to recover.
"I feel like I am just beginning to have one foot over
a line where I feel empowered," Barbour said. "Maybe
these few evil men really are just that, just a few evil men,
and I don't have to extrapolate into the rest of humanity.
I can go out and maybe I can start to experience life, after
Another plaintiff who also was too ashamed for years to tell
anyone about the abuse said he felt that talking publicly
about his case would help others.
"I was embarrassed," said Robert Fuller, now 37
and living in Oregon. "I didn't even admit it to myself
for a long time. ... If there is a name and face in this,
maybe it will inspire people to say, 'Maybe I'm not alone.'
Fuller was a freshman when a teacher on the school ski trip
got him drunk and sexually abused him, he said.
"One of the reasons my parents wanted me to go to De
La Salle was because of concern about parties and drugs at
the public school," he said. "It seemed safer. But
look what happened. I was being molested by someone who was
supposed to be the voice of God."
The plaintiffs were not identified by name in the lawsuits,
all of which were filed in Contra Costa, but two agreed to
be identified in The Chronicle.
In their lawsuits, the plaintiffs accused the Christian Brothers
of covering up the alleged abuse. In the wake of this week's
settlement, however, they and their attorneys credited the
order with acknowledging what happened and trying to prevent
The settlement comes at a time when the Catholic Church in
Northern California is facing 150 lawsuits filed under the
provisions of a 2002 law that temporarily lifted the statute
of limitations on negligence claims for decades-old cases
of child abuse. The abuse suits, which involve dioceses across
the region, are being heard in Alameda County Superior Court.
Paul Gaspari, a lawyer representing the Christian Brothers'
Western province, the De La Salle Institute, said the religious
order was "pleased to be able to reach a settlement and
put this matter behind us."
"They are committed to prevention of abuse and have
prevention plans in place," Gaspari said. "We are
sad and troubled by what happened 20 years ago. The institute
has, for many years, cooperated with law enforcement."
None of the incidents, Gaspari said, happened at the school.
Bruce Shoup, president of the school, could not be reached
The teacher and counselors, who are not named in the lawsuits,
were not charged with crimes. Laurence Drivon, an attorney
representing the plaintiffs, said the men were no longer associated
with the Christian Brothers and "somehow escaped the
Richard Simons, another plaintiffs' attorney, said the Christian
Brothers "are the first in Northern California to step
forward and accept responsibility for the past and show a
commitment and make sure it doesn't happen again."
"Part of that commitment is no secrecy," he said.
"I hope the bishops and their armies of lawyers get an
ounce of courage from what the Christian Brothers have done."
E-mail Katherine Seligman at firstname.lastname@example.org.