Documents amassed by a Seattle-based law firm show that although the Irish Christian Brothers knew one of its members may have molested students at , they still sent him to other schools.
The allegations came to light after a bankruptcy filing by the Irish Christian Brothers in an attempt to cap any damages from former students filing claims alleging sexual or physical abuse by members of the religious order who taught at the high schools.
Brother Edward Courtney, who ran extracurricular activities and served various teaching and administrative roles at Brother Rice's South Side Chicago campus from 1960 to 1968, has been named in lawsuits and court settlements claiming he sexually abused children at a boys high school in Washington state also operated by the Brothers.
According to attorneys from the Seattle-based firm of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC, who represented those victims, Courtney was knowingly sent west by the Brothers in Chicago in order to get rid of him after numerous allegations of abuse at the Chicago high schools.
Since 2004, the Seattle law firm has settled a total of 50 cases—20 against Courtney alone—and the Irish Christian Brothers for a total of $25 million.
“We want to know what was going on in Chicago and the extent of the abuse,” attorney Michael Pfau said. “If he was too dangerous for the children of Chicago, why did the Irish Christian Brothers foist him on the children of Seattle?”
Brother Rice draws students from the South Side and south suburbs, and the school's alumni reside throughout the Chicago Southland.
A Trail of Abuse
Complaints of sexual abuse by parents and students badgered Courtney throughout his career at Brother Rice, Leo and St. Laurence high schools from 1960 to 1974 until his transfer to an Irish Christian Brothers’ boys high school in Seattle.
During this same period, Courtney spent a "cooling off" year at another high school operated by the religious order in Michigan.
While representing the Washington victims, the Seattle attorneys uncovered documents showing Courtney was moved to the Seattle high school after accusations he molested a freshman boy at St. Laurence High School in Burbank.
“One of the things we looked at was what [the Brothers] were doing with this guy before they shipped him to [Seattle] when we uncovered all the evidence of what he did in Chicago,” said attorney Jason Amala, also of PCVA PLLC. “They knew he posed a danger to children.”
Minutes from a March 27-28, 1974, meeting of the Irish Christian Brothers Western Province, which had jurisdiction over the Chicago high schools, reveal that Courtney was “to have no contact with Rice, Leo or Laurence in any way, shape or form.”
[The minutes can be found in this article's documents section.]
“There was no ambiguity,” Pfau said. “Oftentimes, bishops used coded, veiled words like ‘immaturity’ to describe abusers. This is blatant—‘he will have no contact with any kids at our high schools.’”
'Satisfying Tensions in Unacceptable Manner'
A letter by an Irish Christian Brothers provincial in 1978 excusing Courtney from living in “community” with other Brothers discusses Courtney’s “problem with homosexuality” and notes his efforts to seek psychiatric help, including a stint at a Canadian treatment center for sexual deviancy.
The provincial noted in his character assessment Courtney’s inclination “to take on more work than he could handle” leading to his “frustration and the satisfying of his tensions in an unacceptable manner.”
[The provincial's assessment and letter is attached to this article's document section.]
Courtney's old colleague, former Brother Rice principal Gerald M. Rohan, also wrote him a glowing letter of recommendation to Seattle University’s School of Education, where Courtney earned a master’s degree in teaching administration. Rohan — despite having been designated as Courtney's spiritual advisor and handler as Courtney sought treatment for his “homosexuality” — makes no mention of Courtney molesting children.
[The letter of recommendation can be found in the document section.]
After earning his master’s degree, Courtney was placed in a Seattle diocese elementary school as principal, according to court records, and the abuse continued there.
Eventually, he left the Irish Christian Brothers in 1983 and taught in Seattle’s public school system. He pleaded guilty in 1998 to a felony indecent liberties charge. Receiving probation, he never did a day of jail time, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
“[The Brothers] knew in spades how bad this guy was,” Amala said. “It wasn’t a case of 'Oh, it was the '70s, we didn’t know any better.' These guys knew for sure — sending him for treatment — and kept sending him back to kids.”
Pfau said it is possible even for Chicago-area abuse survivors of 50 years ago to file a claim against the Irish Christian Brothers, provided they can show fraud and knowledge the Brothers knew of the abuse and misrepresented abusing members to parents and families as not being a danger to children.
The deadline for filing a claim is Aug. 1.
In addition to Courtney, two other Irish Christian Brothers with ties to Seattle and Chicago have been identified as sexual predators in other lawsuits. D.P. Ryan, an alleged physical abuser who passed away in 2009, and Robert Brouillette both taught or worked at Brother Rice.
While commuting from Joliet to the Brother Rice campus, where he worked as an administrator, Brouillette was found to have child pornography on his computer. He was also caught in a police sting arranging a meeting with a 12-year-old. He spent four years of probation at a treatment center for clergy until he was tossed out of the Irish Christian Brothers, according to the Sun-Times.
The attorneys have taken issue with the Irish Christian Brothers’ minimal attempts to notify former students of the Aug. 1 deadline in accordance with bankruptcy filing requirements. Most of the letters are being sent to students’ parents who may have moved away or died decades ago.
Calls to Brother Rice High School regarding its role in notifying former students of the deadline were not returned.
“I can’t even imagine what is simmering under the surface of Chicago,” Pfau said. “It’s important for survivors to know their rights.”