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School is again target of lawsuits claiming sex abuse

Two suits claim boys who enrolled in Mary Help of Christians in the 1980s were abused.

Published September 29, 2005

TAMPA - Two more lawsuits have been filed against Tampa's Mary Help of Christians School, accusing a priest and a music teacher of sexually abusing boys in their care.

Eight suits have been filed since 2002 accusing priests or teachers of child molestation. The latest two were filed Tuesday in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

One says the plaintiff, now a man, enrolled in the school in 1980 for the sixth grade. On 20 or more occasions starting in September 1982, a music teacher sexually abused him by fondling, kissing and having sex with him, the suit says.

At least once, another teacher caught the music teacher abusing the plaintiff and began to argue with him, the suit says. But the school never disciplined the music teacher.

Years after the music teacher left the school in 1984, he continued to have a sexual relationship with the plaintiff, the suit says.

The second suit says the plaintiff, also now a man, enrolled in the school in 1989 in the sixth grade.

After catching the boy urinating behind the school, a priest called him to the back of the altar and prayed while he fondled the boy, the suit says.

The priest told the boy he was being punished and "to remain silent about what had occurred and to keep his sins between himself and God," the suit says.

At the end of the seventh grade, the plaintiff's parents pulled him out of the school for disciplinary problems, the suit says.

Both suits say the plaintiffs suffered psychological damage, including depression. Each seeks more than $5-million in damages from defendants, the Salesian Society and Mary Help of Christian Schools.

The school at 6400 E Chelsea St., which stopped housing residential students in 1996 and became coed in 2000, is run by the Salesians of Don Bosco religious order. The order is devoted to helping children, especially the poor and disadvantaged, according to its Web site.

[Last modified September 29, 2005, 01:18:09]

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