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Updated: Friday, 16 Mar 2012, 7:04 PM EDT
Published : Friday, 16 Mar 2012, 4:24 PM EDT
WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) - Thousands of alumni from Bishop Hendricken High School have received letters advising them of a pending bankruptcy case against the congregation that once ran the school, and setting a deadline for those who plan to file a sex abuse claim.
The first letter, signed by the president of the high school, was sent to Hendricken alumni who graduated between 1972 and 2011, when the Congregation of the Christian Brothers operated the all-male Catholic school.
“A federal court ruling pertaining to the allegations forced Bishop Hendricken's administration to release our alumni list for the aforementioned years,” the Dec. 29, 2011, mailing stated. “You will be receiving a letter concerning allegations brought against some members of the congregation.”
Several months later alumni received an ominous form letter from a U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York. It states The Christian Brothers Institute and the Christian Brothers of Ireland, Inc., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on April 28, 2011. The letter then informs the reader of a deadline for those thinking of suing the Christian Brothers.
One section of the letter – written in bold and in all caps – states: “If you were sexually abused by any brother of the debtors or any other person connected with the debtors and wish to file a claim against the debtors, you must file a claim by August 1, 2012 at 4:00 p.m.”
In a statement to WPRI 12, Jackson said he is unaware of any allegations of sexual assault stemming from the 40 years the Christian Brothers ran the school.
“To the best of the school administration's knowledge, no allegations of misconduct at the school have been made against any of the Brothers,” Jackson said in the statement. “The Brothers left the school in June, 2011, and it is now administered by lay personnel. We wish the Brothers well in their future ministries."
As for the bankruptcy filing, Jackson said current and former students should not be concerned that the massive court case will impact the operations of the high school.
“We have assured all alumni that we are separately incorporated and [the bankruptcy filing] would have no effect on us whatsoever,” Jackson said in a telephone interview.
Jackson said the Christian Brothers set up what is best described as a “management contract” when they took over in 1971, but they have no financial stake in the school.
He said he has gotten a few emails from concerned alumni since the letters went out.
“It was mostly concerns about whether Bishop Hendricken is an asset owned by Christian Brothers, and its not,” Jackson said.
Educating students in grades nine to 12, Hendricken has an enrollment of 924 students. Tuition is $11,650 this year. A spokesman for the school said their alumni population will surpass 10,000 with this year’s graduating class.
One of the school's more high-profile alumni is Congressman Jim Langevin, who graduated in 1983.
Langevin’s spokesperson Jonathan Dworkin said the congressman has not seen any of the mailings, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t sent one.
“He often comes home to a pile of mail,” Dworkin said. “He is not aware of any [allegations] involving the school or an evidence implying anything at the school.”
Langevin was a student at Hendricken when an errant bullet tore through his spine while he was working with the Warwick Police Department in the Boy Scout Explorer Program, leaving him confined to a wheelchair.
“The school played an incredibly important role in my life after my accident, which is when I needed the community the most,” Langevin said in a statement. “It’s like a family and I am forever grateful for what they did for me at an incredibly important time. My experience at Bishop Hendricken High School was very positive.”
In 1986, the exclusive high school was rocked by scandal when the principal at the time was charged with trying to solicit sex from a minor.
According to press reports, John Walderman, then 40, was arrested on New Year's Day after police said he picked up a 17-year-old boy from Kennedy Plaza in Providence in an attempt to pay for sex.
Court records show the charges against the former Christian Brother were dismissed, but it cost Walderman his job at Hendricken. In 2007, the accusations caught up with him again and he was ousted from another school in New York after administrators there were made aware of the charge.
A spokesperson from the Christian Brothers organization did not answer WPRI 12’s request for information about whether or not any claims have been made by alumni of Bishop Hendricken.
"The Bankruptcy Court has established a bar date of August 1, 2012 for claims to be filed,” Spokesman Steven Mangione said. “When this process has taken its course, all claims that have been submitted will be reviewed."
The Christian Brothers are a ministry known internationally for their devotion to education. But recently they have also been known as an organization that is front and center in the sex abuse scandal plaguing the Catholic Church.
Hundreds of alleged victims have filed claims against the group in the United States, Ireland, Canada and Australia.
A report commissioned by the Irish government revealed the Christian Brothers received more allegations of abuse than any other Christian organization in that country.
Civil suits are pending internationally and law firms have set up clearinghouses for claims.
The letter sent to Hendricken alumni provides a website for more information and a phone number for those considering a claim against the group.
The Christian Brothers era
The Christian Brothers took over at Hendricken in 1971, staffing its classrooms with teachers, according to spokesperson David Curtis.
“Hendricken always has been a diocesan school, but starting in 1971, the Brothers ran the day-to-day operations of the school, and the Bishop Hendricken High School Corporation served as the governing board,” Curtis said.
That relationship continued until last summer when the Christian Brothers left, Curtis said. The departure came just months after the Brothers sought bankruptcy protection from the courts.
“They simply didn’t have enough people,” he said. “They could no longer staff and run schools to which they made commitments.”
Copyright WPRI 12
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