The Archdiocese of Santa Fe is facing yet another scandal, but this time the lawsuit was filed by seven men who allegedly suffered sexual abuse during their time at St. Michael’s High School in Santa Fe.
The accused abusers—Brother Andrew Abdon, Brother Louis Brousseau, and Brother Tom McConnell—are members of the international Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, also known as De La Salle Christian Brothers. The Brothers of the Christian Schools are the administrators of St. Michael’s High School. Both Tom McConnell and Andrew Abdon named in the lawsuit are already listed on the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s credibly accused list of priests.
Brother Abdon and Brother McConnell were involved with St. Michael’s sports program at the time the alleged abuse took place. McConnell served as a wrestling coach in the early 1970s for the school, which is where accusers say the majority of the abuse took place. One plaintiff says that Brother McConnell, under the guise of training him for wrestling, would drive him up to Hyde Park outside of Santa Fe from 1971 to 1972 and sexually abuse him.
Brother Abdon was also a coach at St. Michael’s and taught there on and off from the 1940s until the late 1970s. The lawsuit states that his position as both a coach and counselor for the school allowed for many of the abuses to continue for decades. The victims say the abuse went unreported or ignored until his death in 1977 when he suffered a heart attack while watching a St. Michael’s varsity football game. Brother Abdon Field, a sports field at the high school is named after the accused Brother Andrew Abdon.
The lawsuit seeks to hold the Brothers of the Christian Schools accountable for reported abuses but also names the Santa Fe Archdiocese because the school is funded in part by the Archdiocese. “This lawsuit is necessary to address a situation involving shared responsibility. While these men have each filed a claim in the Archdiocese Bankruptcy, the Christian Brothers must also be held accountable for allowing this abuse to go on year after year at St. Michael’s,” Billy Keeler, one of the attorneys representing the victims, said.
According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Archdiocese’s “credibly accused” list of 44 priests was created when then-Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan first conducted a review in 2004. Accusations of abuse by several of the priests at St. Michael’s were rampant from the 1950s through the 1970s. In 2017, as a gesture of accountability, Archbishop John C. Wester of the Santa Fe Archdiocese identified 66 names of priests within the church in New Mexico who faced credible allegations of sexual abuse involving children. Wester said the increase in the number of acknowledged names was a step toward greater accountability. The New Mexican also found that only priests that were investigated are featured on the list. Many who were accused but not investigated don’t appear on that list, including priests who may have been accused in another state.
The most recent lawsuit claims that the “Plaintiffs’ parents did not know or believe, nor have a reason to know or believe, that the brothers, teachers, counselors, and/or coaches at Defendant St. Michael’s High School would do anything to harm their children.”
Craig Vernon, another attorney representing the plaintiffs, stated that the lawsuit is one of “broken promises.” He added that, “The Christian Brothers, along with the Archdiocese, advertised to parents and students that this school would provide an excellent education that was safe, being rooted in the Roman Catholic Faith. Instead, there was not one, not two, but three perpetrators placed in positions of power over students.”
The first lawsuit brought forth against these three priests at St. Michael’s was in 1995 and was part of greater recognition of sexual abuse happening in the church in the 1990s. The Christian Brothers settled the lawsuit as part of a nationwide wave of lawsuits. The seven new plaintiffs say they are seeking greater accountability by the church to address systemic abuse. In the 1990s the lawsuit sought to amend the years of psychological damages suffered by the victims. Now the lawsuits seek greater accountability from the church and address the systemic problems that led to these abuses that went unaddressed for decades. The plaintiffs accuse the Christian Brothers, saying that “instead of taking steps to mitigate Plaintiff’s damages, [they] did direct or participate in a cover-up of Brothers’ wrongful activities to the further detriment of Plaintiffs.”
The lawsuit goes further and accuses the defendant of “unlawful and aberrant behavior and knew they had a duty to warn the students, and the parents of the students, of St. Michael’s High School, that the students would likely be subjected to Brothers’ unlawful and aberrant sexual advances and sexual acts.”
Because of the defendants’ response to the reported abuse, the lawsuit states that, “The plaintiffs sustained substantial damages in the form of severe emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment and loss of self-worth.”
“Now, people recognize that it is a systemic problem within the Archdiocese and the Catholic Church. These kids were met with shame and anxiety; they never thought they could find a safe place to say what happened. Each of these entities shares responsibility for what happened,” Keeler added. “I think that it is reasonable to expect more from our institutions that serve children and families.”
The Archdiocese recently asked a bankruptcy court for permission to auction off about 700 pieces of land across New Mexico that had either been donated to the church or had been held to build future parishes. The church is currently facing close to 300 claims of abuse in New Mexico.