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Last Chance for Possible Abuse Victims at Montebello Catholic School

Former students who want to file sex abuse lawsuits against the Congregation of Christian Brothers, which staffed Cantwell High School in Montebello from 1948 until 1990, will be barred from doing so after Aug. 1.

The Congregation of Christian Brothers, also known as the Irish Christian Brothers, filed for bankruptcy in New York courts last year, after it was hit with numerous sex-abuse lawsuits in recent years. They subsequently filed for a cut off date that will prevent further claims or lawsuits.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOLCorto Plazo para las Posibles Víctimas de Abusos en una Escuela Católica de Montebello [1]

The religious order runs several Catholic schools across the country, and for 42 years before the Los Angeles Archdiocese removed them in 1990, its members ran Cantwell High School in Montebello.

After the Congregation of Christian Brothers left, the school, which was an all-boys school at the time, was combined with Sacred Heart of Mary, an all-girls school, to form Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary High School.

Joelle Casteix, western regional director for the Survivors Network of those Abused By Priests, SNAP, said their organization, made up of sex abuse victims and their supporters, is working to inform other potential abuse victims about the Aug. 1 deadline. Other types of claims not having to do with sex abuse will also be barred following that date.

Mike Reck, an attorney specializing in clergy abuse cases, believes the bankruptcy case is a “shrewd legal tactic from a faith-based institution” to protect itself from further sex abuse lawsuits.

“[The Congregation of Christian Brothers] really should not be able to seek protection of the bankruptcy court when their debts are crimes against children. These children they hurt really should come forward now before they lose the opportunity to do so,” he said.

Joelle Castaix, left, holds pictures of possible abusers who taught or were principals at Cantwell High School. On right, Ken Smolka holds a picture of when he was a victim of sexual abuse while attending Loyola High School. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)

Casteix says there were at least four possible abusers at Cantwell High School, identified from school yearbooks and other sources.

She added the Congregation of Christian Brothers had a habit of “shuffling molesters from school to school to school, even if they were named in lawsuits, or arrested.”

One Brother who was moved around was Thomas Cuthbert Ford, a principal at Cantwell High during the early 1980s, who in 2000 pleaded guilty to beating a teenager unconscious and was sentenced to five months in jail. He had originally fled allegations of physical abuse in Canada, going first to teach at a school in Honolulu, then to Cantwell.

Other possible abusers Casteix identified include Jerome Matthias Heustis, a teacher at Cantwell during the 1970s who was accused of sexually abusing a boy in New York; and Daniel Peter Ryan, a vice principal and teacher, also during the 1970s, who was identified as a potential abuser and was later transferred to a school where more than 50 children have alleged sexual and physical abuse.

Robert W. Satterthwaite, who taught at Cantwell in the 1960s and 1970s, was named not only in a lawsuit, but also in a report on possible abusers released by the Los Angeles Archdiocese, according to Casteix.

The Brothers identified by Casteix, with the exception of Satterthwaite, have all died.

Catholic institutions such as the Los Angeles Archdiocese maintain that many of the teachers and staff named in lawsuits or brought forward by groups like SNAP have not been convicted of sex-abused crimes.

Casteix says the clergy have shown no interest in informing victims of their legal rights, and it has fallen on organizations like theirs to bring clergy out into the open, adding that “this is not just about personal healing, but also about ensuring child safety and punishing wrong-doers.”