BOSTON (LifeSiteNews) — A lawsuit has been brought against Cardinal Sean O’Malley – the Church’s leading prelate in charge of handling cases of sexual abuse of minors – detailing an accusation of failure to properly protect minors from sexual abuse at the hands of a school official.
The allegation has been made as part of a lawsuit filed by three former students of Arlington Catholic High School, who name O’Malley along with two other bishops who were serving as members of O’Malley’s Boston Archdiocese during the alleged offenses. The bishops are Bishop Robert Deeley – current bishop of the Diocese of Portland, former vicar general (2011–2013) and later auxiliary bishop of the Boston Archdiocese – and current Boston auxiliary Bishop Peter Uglietto, who has been the vicar general since 2014.
Plaintiffs allege prelates were neglectful or covered-up abuse
Filed on May 5, the plaintiffs are not named, simply being referred to as John Doe I, II, and III.
They argue that, while teenagers at the school between 2011 and 2016, they were sexually abused by Stephen Biagioni, who served as vice principal and administrator to the Catholic high school from 1999 to 2016.
Explicit details of the alleged sexual abuse are provided in the suit, with all three John Doe’s alleging that Biagioni’s “explicit sexual behavior and lewd and lascivious conduct” took place either in the school gym, while wrestling, or in Biagioni’s office.
They argue that O’Malley and the two other bishops had “management, supervision, employ, direction, and/or control” over Biagioni. Furthermore, the three prelates “knew or should have known that Stephen Biagioni used his positions with the RCAB [Boston Archdiocese] to sexually abuse minor children,” the suit argues.
The prelates, continues the suit, “knew and/or reasonably should have known, and/or knowingly condoned, and/or covered up, the inappropriate and unlawful sexual activities of Stephen Biagioni.”
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Biagioni himself was placed on leave and subsequently let go by the school in 2016. In a statement issued at the time of his being placed on leave, the school’s Vice Principal Linda Butt said a complaint had been made against then-Principal Biagioni, leading to an investigation.
“We have no reason to believe at this time it involves allegations of sexual abuse,” she stated.
LifeSiteNews questioned the Archdiocese of Boston about the lawsuit and the allegations regarding Cardinal O’Malley. The archdiocesan spokesman Terrence Donilon stated in replay that “the Archdiocese of Boston has been at the forefront of assisting survivors and implementing safe environment standards in all of our schools and parishes for decades under the leadership of Cardinal O’Malley. We have sought to resolve credible claims of abuse in a manner that recognizes the harm that was caused.”
He noted that “as has been publicly reported, we understand that certain of the allegations in this lawsuit were brought to the attention of Arlington Catholic High School in 2016 and were reported to the appropriate law enforcement and child welfare authorities at that time as part of Arlington Catholic’s and the Archdiocese’s ongoing commitment to provide a safe environment for young people. The administrator in question was subsequently removed from his position.”
Donilon downplayed suggestions of the cardinal’s role in the Vatican being called into question due to the lawsuit, stating “the Cardinal remains committed to serving as President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and leading its important work to ensure safety of children in dioceses around the world.”
The suit has been filed by Mitchell Garabedian, a prominent lawyer well-known for his handling of sexual abuse cases, particularly in the Boston area and against ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
Expanding on the recent suit, Garabedian told reporters that allegations regarding Biagioni’s sexual abuse were “an open secret” at Arlington Catholic High School.
He accused the archdiocese of continuing a pattern of permissive behavior regarding the tolerance of sexual abuse: “Significantly, given that years of the alleged sexual abuse are recent, it is apparent that the Archdiocese of Boston and the Catholic Church are still allowing the sexual abuse of innocent children.”
“The cracks in the moral foundation of the Archdiocese of Boston are widespread,” he added. “The Archdiocese of Boston has a dual role here as a moral leader and also as a responsibility to supervise [children] to make sure they’re kept safe. And that just did not happen.”
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This is not the first instance of allegations being made regarding Biagioni. Last year Garabedian filed a suit representing a number of men who claimed that Biagioni abused them in the school while they were children. However, Garabedian told the Boston Globe that the former school principal has not been named as a defendant in the cases for “strategic reasons.”
Embattled pontifical commission
LifeSiteNews has contacted the Archdiocese of Boston seeking comment, along with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. O’Malley has led the commission since its inception in 2014, with the aim of proposing “initiatives” to the Pope “for the purposes of promoting local responsibility in the particular churches for the protection of all minors and vulnerable adults.”
The updated task of the commission, following Pope Francis’ Curial reforms in March 2022, echoed its origins while also noting that the commission must also assist diocesan bishops and Institutes of Apostolic Life in forming suitable policies for the protection of minors. It additionally situated the commission within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
“The commission’s specific task is to propose to me the most opportune initiatives for protecting minors and vulnerable adults, in order that we may do everything possible to ensure that crimes such as those which have occurred are no longer repeated in the Church,” stated Francis in 2014.
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However in recent months, O’Malley’s commission has been the subject of much attention and controversy.
A prominent member of the small team, Father Hans Zollner S.J., announced his departure from the commission on March 29 and his move to the Diocese of Rome as a safeguarding consultant. Zollner cited “issues that need to be urgently addressed and which have made it impossible for me to continue further” as part of the group.
Zollner stated he became “increasingly concerned” with how the commission was working on the areas of “responsibility, compliance, accountability, and transparency.” He cited a “lack of clarity” regarding new appointments and a “inadequate… financial accountability.”
The priest also implicitly criticized the Pope’s Curial reforms, saying he was “unaware of any regulations that govern the relationship between the commission and the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
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O’Malley first praised Zollner’s work in the commission, but then in an amendment after Zollner’s public statement was released, took issue with the Jesuit’s criticisms of the group. O’Malley said he was “surprised, disappointed and strongly disagree with his [Zollner’s] publicly-issued assertions challenging the commission’s effectiveness.”
We do both share the view that the protection of children and vulnerable persons remains at the heart of the Church’s mission and the commission will continue to manifest that conviction. The commission has a plenary meeting scheduled in the next few weeks during which we can address these and other matters more fully as a group.
Zollner’s departure was widely heralded as a significant loss for the commission, and came after former abuse survivor and fellow member of the commission Marie Collins also resigned in 2017. Collins, a member since the group’s inception, cited “cultural resistance” in the Vatican body
The reluctance of some in the Vatican Curia to implement recommendations or cooperate with the work of a commission when the purpose is to improve the safety of children and vulnerable adults around the world is unacceptable.
Collins spoke about “constant setbacks” for the commission, which were “directly due to the resistance by some members of the Vatican Curia to the work of the commission. The lack of co-operation, particularly by the dicastery most closely involved in dealing with cases of abuse, has been shameful.”
LifeSite will update this report upon receipt of a response the Archdiocese of Boston or the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.