Marist Brothers Catholic order hid abuse by member who helped run Chicago school in the 1970s, suits say

After Brother Robert Ryan died in 2017, a relative posted an online tribute, calling him “the favorite uncle” who “lived a giving life” and “selflessly” served God.

Two lawsuits paint a different picture of Ryan, one that’s become public only after his death at 83. They accuse him of having molested children over a yearslong span in which he was a member of the Marist Brothers Catholic religious order.

One of the lawsuits says victims of the abuse included students attending Marist High School on the Far Southwest Side in the 1970s.

At Marist, Ryan’s “sexual abuse of minor boys worsened in both frequency and intensity . . . and he began to engage in more violent conduct, such as anal rape and sodomy,” according to the lawsuit.

Beyond describing what it says was the emotional and physical damage caused by Ryan, the suit accuses his order of covering up for him for years. It says the Marist Brothers were aware of allegations against Ryan and dealt with them by transferring him from coast to coast, in addition to placing him in Chicago, rather than removing him from ministry. The order also failed to report the sexual abuse allegations against Ryan to the police or to inform parents, according to the suit.

Most Catholic dioceses and many independently run Catholic religious orders now inform their church communities and the public about what they deem to be credible allegations of abuse of minors by their priests, deacons and brothers.

But the Marist Brothers, who have a hub in Chicago, do not. So, unlike, for instance, the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, the order does not post a public list of its members in Chicago and elsewhere who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse.

There has been growing pressure from inside and outside the church — including a public call by Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich as well as private pressure — for orders to come clean about clergy sexual abuse, in part because that’s seen as a way to promote healing among victims.

That push comes in the face of the ongoing scandal regarding clergy sexual abuse in the United States that first exploded into public view in the 1980s. It has led many dioceses and religious orders to post lists of their abusive clergy and their past assignments.

But some orders in addition to the Marist Brothers have not heeded those calls. In a series of reports, the Chicago Sun-Times has detailed how other male Catholic religious orders that operate in and around Chicago also have tried to keep a lid on sexual abuse by their clerics. They include:

 The Dominicans, who operate Fenwick High School in Oak Park.

 The Augustinians, who run Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox.

 And the Passionists, who for decades served Immaculate Conception parish on the Far Northwest Side and ran the church school — including a period in which the pastor there had been accused of being a serial child molester.

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