Former Marist High student sues, alleging school knew of sexual abuse by administrator in 1970s

A former student is suing Marist Catholic High School in Eugene and the Marist Brothers of the Schools in New York for $3.25 million, alleging an administrator in the 1970s sexually abused him for years.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Multnomah Circuit Court in Portland, states that Brother  Robert Ryan worked at the private Catholic high school in Eugene as vice principal in the 1970s and used his role to groom and isolate students, sexually abusing them at school and on school trips.

Ryan is memorialized on the Marist High School website, which states that he died in April 2017. 

The Marist suit seeks $250,000 in economic damages and $3 million in noneconomic damages, claiming sexual battery of a child, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence and fraud. It sues both the local private school and the larger nonprofit Marist Brothers of the Schools, which oversaw and staffed the high school at the time until 1994, when the Archdiocese of Portland took over. 

The president of Marist High could not be reached for comment after multiple attempts Tuesday and Wednesday.

The man's lawyer said he believes there are more victims, and the school should have reasonably known about the abuse but did nothing to stop it. 

"We believe the evidence is going to show that he was engaged in open behaviors that should have been recognized as indicating danger to boys, such as trips, time alone in his office or in other places on campus with boys, (and) the comments and sexualized discussions that he was having with boys," said Peter Janci, attorney for the former student. "We believe the evidence is going to show that at least one of his victims did make a report to the school. So our view is there were lots of red flags about this particular brother and they didn't take the action that they should have to protect boys."

The former student, now 59 years old, was in his mid-teens when the alleged acts happened. He is suing under a pseudonym because the case involves alleged sexual abuse. The Register-Guard does not publish the names of sexual abuse victims.

He is represented by Portland law firm Crew Janci LLP, which specializes in child sex abuse cases, including lawsuits filed against the Boy Scouts of America on behalf of men in several states. 

"I just now have a perspective on what happened that I didn't have when I was younger," the man said in an interview with The Register-Guard. "You know, I was a kid — a child, really. And as I look back I was like, I can't imagine doing this to kids.

"School is a place where it's supposed to be safe, and to be really preyed upon and by a person of authority, somebody you looked up to ... He was the vice principal ... the disciplinarian, and he was reaching out to be my friend," he said. "It's crazy. It's not right."

The lawsuit alleges Ryan "sexually abused (the student) on numerous occasions beginning in approximately 1975 and lasting until approximately 1977, including forcibly kissing, fondling, masturbating and performing oral sex upon (the student)." The alleged acts happened, the suit states, in the administrator's office, other locations around the school and on school-related weekend activities, such as trips to the coast. 

While a student at Marist, he would regularly stay after school to work, cleaning the hallways. The former student said Ryan would give him attention by playfully poking the student with his elbow, building a sense of "camaraderie."

"I felt like I was special," the man said. "... but he was just grooming me." 

Eventually Ryan started calling him into his office after school where Ryan would talk about sexually explicit topics and tried to solicit information about the sexual habits of the student's peers.

The student recalled Ryan took him on two weekend trips to the Oregon Coast — once on his own and once with a group of students —  where he allegedly sexually abused them.

"Our investigation has revealed there are other students who experienced the same thing — had Brother Robert Ryan take them on trips to the coast and elsewhere," Janci said.

Janci and his client said these frequent trips outside of school hours should have raised concerns among other brothers in the school. 

"When I look back, then I'm like, how did the Marist brothers allow that to happen?" the former student said.

The law firm has pursued other cases again...

Read the rest of the story here.

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