The parents of a deeply depressed man who said that as a youth he was sexually molested by a Roman Catholic lay brother have sued the Los Angeles Archdiocese for damages resulting from their son’s suicide last year.
The lawsuit, filed today in Los Angeles County Superior Court, is being brought by Richard and Blanca Lukasiewicz, who said that their son Richard Jr. was molested by a lay brother at Don Bosco Technical Institute, a private Catholic high school he attended from 1979 through 1983.
The couple said in the suit that as the result of his childhood sexual abuse, their son fell into a deep depression that made him suicidal. Despite years of treatment for his depression and several suicide attempts, Richard Jr., 36, hanged himself with his belt and shoelaces at a psychiatric center on April 19, 2002, the suit said.
“The sexual abuse stole Richard Jr.’s youth, it took his self esteem and drained his ability to cope,” the suit said. “Though he fought valiantly for years to overcome the sense of betrayal and mistrust, he ultimately succumbed to the depression and sense of worthlessness.”
While there have been perhaps dozens of other suicides nationwide by people who said they were suffering from depression brought on by sexual abuse by priests, lawyers and activist groups representing victims said the Lukasiewicz case was the first in the country in which relatives of the victims have sued the Catholic Church for damages.
Mary Grant, the southwest regional director for the victims group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said that her organization was contacted regularly by families who had lost children to suicide because of sexual abuse by priests but that none had ever filed a suit.
“I’m glad to hear that they are filing the suit because it’s the right thing to do because when a child is sexually abused the whole family is victimized,” Ms. Grant said. “This is very good news that they are doing this and moving things in the right direction toward acknowledging the impact of abuse.”
Tom Tamburg, a spokesman for Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it. He noted, however, that Cardinal Mahony assumed his post in 1985 and was not at the helm of the archdiocese when the abuse was alleged to have occurred.
The lawsuit does not name the Catholic brother who is accused of molesting Richard Jr. but says only that he was assigned to teach and counsel at the high school. Telephone calls to Don Bosco Technical Institute, in Rosemead, Calif., were not answered, perhaps because the school was observing Good Friday.
According to the Los Angeles Archdiocese, a Catholic brother differs from a priest in that he is not a member of the clergy but a layperson who is not ordained but takes vows within his particular religious order, which has direct jurisdiction over its members.
“Richard Jr. wanted to live, and he made heroic efforts to survive,” said Raymond Boucher, a lawyer for the Lukasiewicz family. “He tried yoga, he tried counseling and took medication, but the damage done by this Catholic brother was so great that none of it worked.”
The Lukasiewiczes are also seeking damages from the psychiatric facility, which was not mentioned by name in the suit. They claim that the facility did not adequately supervise their son when he was admitted after a suicide attempt.
Mr. Boucher, who represents at least 200 victims of sexual abuse by priests in Southern California, said the Lukasiewiczes had filed the suit to raise awareness of the problem in the hope that other families will not suffer as they have.