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Charleston Catholic Diocese accused of "cover up" in child sex abuse by teachers lawsuit

Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston (WCIV)

A new lawsuit claims two men who worked at a Charleston Catholic school nearly 50 years ago sexually abused children they taught, and that the Catholic Diocese of Charleston not only knew about the abuse, but concealed it.

In a lawsuit filed August 8, a man claims he was sexually abused by two teachers at the former Sacred Heart Catholic School (now Charleston Catholic School) when he was a student there, leading to "severe psychological damage."

The teachers, identified as Hal Brooks and Chris Hartnett, worked at Sacred Heart between 1969 and 1971, according to the Diocese of Charleston.

The victim, identified only as John Doe in the lawsuit, says Hartnett and Brooks sexually assaulted him on multiple occasions between the ages of 12 and 14 while he was a student at Sacred Heart.

  • (Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly identified the school in question as Blessed Sacrament in the sentence above.)

The victim says he was also serving as an altar boy and involved in youth programs at the church and school during that time, through which Brooks and Hartnett reportedly gained access to him for further abuse.

The victim claims in the lawsuit that Brooks and Hartnett molested other boys, as well. The incidents took place at school and church functions around the state, as well as on church and school grounds, the victim claims.

As a "good Catholic," the victim believed at the time "he must conceal that Hartnett and Brooks had committed upon him a horrible sin, or risk an afterlife of damnation," the lawsuit says.

Hartnett and Brooks, meanwhile, assured the victim their conduct was legal and proper, but threatened him with retaliation if he told anyone, and also warned him no one would believe him if he came forward, according to the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the victim say the Diocese of Charleston knew of the abuse the victim endured and the "sexually deviant propensities" of Hartnett and Brooks, yet concealed this knowledge and continued to employ them.

Attorneys for the Richter Law Firm, which filed the lawsuit, refer to the diocese's handling of the situation as an outright " cover up."

The 11-count complaint seeks a jury trial and financial compensation for actual and punitive damages suffered by the victim at the hands of the Diocese and its current bishop. Rev. Robert Guglielmone.

"Diocesan officials have reached out to the claimant and offered counseling and pastoral care. In the meantime, diocesan attorneys are working on responding to the complaint,” diocese spokesperson Maria Aselage said Wednesday.

This is not the first time a Diocese of Charleston employee who worked at Sacred Heart has been accused of sexually abusing minors.

A 2002 lawsuit claimed former Sacred Heart teacher Edward Fischer sexually assaulted children inside the school during the late 1950s.

The latest Sacred Heart lawsuit was filed days before a Pennsylvania grand jury revealed its findings of a massive, multi-year investigation into child sex crimes by Catholic priests.

Discovered among the allegations were two against Rev. Robert Spangenberg, who spent several years in Charleston as pastor at St. Patrick's Catholic Church following a sexual assault claim against him in Pennsylvania.

Aselage says the diocese is aware of no complaints of sexual misconduct against Spangenberg, who is now dead, from his time at St. Patrick's in Charleston.

News reports from various outlets show at least a dozen Catholic priests serving in South Carolina under the Diocese of Charleston have been accused of sex crimes against minors dating back years.

Prior to the revelation of Spangenberg's history, the most recent allegation of child sex abuse against clergy associated with the Diocese of Charleston came last year.

In 2017, Charleston Police arrested Freddy Washington on child sex abuse charges stemming from his time as a volunteer at St. Patrick's in the early 1980s. Washington is awaiting trial.

The diocese also came under scrutiny in 2011 when it was revealed the diocese violated its own policy by not running a background check on Skip ReVille prior to approving him as a volunteer tennis coach at Bishop England High School.

ReVille, who is in prison after being convicted of sexually abusing 22 boys, was approved as a tennis instructor at Bishop England in 2008. The diocese had adopted a policy five years earlier requiring background checks on all personnel with access to children.

There are no records of complaints against ReVille stemming from his activity at Bishop England, the diocese said in 2011.

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