One of the leading figures in the Catholic Church’s effort to protect children from sexual abuse, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, is named in a new lawsuit claiming he failed to properly supervise at the time a vice principal who abused three teens at a Catholic high school.
The Boston archbishop, along with five other archdiocesan officials, is a defendant in the lawsuit filed May 5 in Suffolk Superior Court by attorney Mitchell Garabedian on behalf of three former students.
The alleged victims, referred to as John Doe I, John Doe II and John Does III in the lawsuit, claim Stephen Biagioni, Arlington Catholic High School’s vice principal, sexually abused them while they were forced to serve detention that he supervised.
The alleged abuse took place between 2011 and 2016 when the victims were between 15 and 17 years old, according to the lawsuit. Biagioni eventually became the principal of the high school, his promotion presumably being approved by diocesan officials. He was suspended from his duties in 2016 and placed on administrative leave for an unspecified incident involving a student in detention, according to local media outlets at the time.
“We have no reason to believe at this time it involves allegations of sexual abuse,” Vice Principal Linda Butt said in a letter to parents at the time of the suspension.
The school let Biagioni go from his job in 2016.
The lawsuit blames Cardinal O’Malley, Boston Auxiliary Bishop Peter J. Uglietto, and former Boston Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Deeley (now bishop of Portland, Maine), as well as three other unnamed archdiocesan officials, for Biagioni’s ability to groom the teens and abuse them in wrestling matches during detention. The lawsuit maintains all six persons had supervisory responsibility, and should have known about Biagioni’s behavior and done something sooner.
“The cracks in the moral foundation of the Archdiocese of Boston are widespread,” Garabedian said in a May 22 statement to reporters on the case. “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.”
Terrence Donilon, spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, declined to comment on the lawsuit itself, but told OSV News that Boston Archdiocese officials took appropriate steps in 2016 when it first learned of the allegations against Biagioni.
“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 ongoing commitment to provide a safe environment for young people at the school,” Donilon said. “The administrator in question was subsequently removed from his position, and personnel from Arlington Catholic and the Archdiocese of Boston cooperated fully with the investigating authorities.”
Bishop Deeley has been Portland’s bishop since 2013. In the Boston Archdiocese, both he and Bishop Uglietto served as vicar generals of the Boston Archdiocese and were moderators of the curia.
Cardinal O’Malley is currently head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors since his appointment in 2014. He’s also a member of the international Council of Cardinals, the body instituted by Pope Francis to assist in governing the Catholic Church and institute reforms to the Vatican bureaucracy.