A half-dozen protesters gathered Tuesday outside Cheverus High School in Portland to draw parallels between sexual abuse there by a former teacher and recent allegations of abuse at Penn State University.

Protesters in front of the school on Ocean Avenue held signs reading “Cheverus is no different than Penn State” and “The pain lasts a lifetime.”

Former Cheverus teacher and coach Charles Malia admitted sexually abusing students during his tenure, between 1969 and 1998, and Rev. James Talbot, who worked there in the 1980s and 1990s, was accused of abusing students at Cheverus and admitted abusing students at Boston College High School.

Penn State’s famed football coach, Joe Paterno, recently resigned after a grand jury report said he and three other university officials failed to notify police after a member of the coaching staff witnessed a former assistant coach sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in the school’s football facility in 2002.

Tuesday’s protest, organized by John Clark, a Malia victim, also sought to highlight a lack of progress in mediation talks between lawyers for the school and the victims.

“They didn’t want to acknowledge the damage done by looking the other way,” Clark said. “People’s lives are shattered like glass, really, and we’re left trying to pick up the pieces.”

Clark said the school’s lawyers had offered to meet for mediation talks, but after several postponements, they recently withdrew the offer. That action happened at about the same time as the revelations of sexual abuse at Penn State.

The statute of limitations had expired before charges could be pursued or a lawsuit initiated in the Malia case.

Clark said the victims are seeking acknowledgement of wrongdoing by Cheverus and a monetary settlement to help compensate for the challenges they have faced since the abuse, including family trouble, substance abuse and difficulty holding a job.

Cheverus attorney Melissa Hewey said Tuesday that an attorney for two Malia victims, Mitchell Garabediam of Boston, sent the school a letter in the spring seeking $1 million for each of the victims. Hewey said she met with the victims’ lawyers but ultimately decided a settlement wasn’t possible because the school doesn’t have the resources or insurance that would allow it to pay that kind of settlement.

A statement released Tuesday by a Cheverus official just before the protest read: “The recent reports of sexual abuse at Penn State once again remind us all of the need to be vigilant for the safekeeping of our children.”

According to the statement, Cheverus pays for counseling services for victims who request it. Officials have held meetings with victims and apologized on behalf of the school, held masses for healing and reconciliation, and removed Malia’s name from an athletic track that had been dedicated to him.

“Cheverus supports the right of these victims to continue to remind us of the events that took place 30 to 40 years ago,” the statement said. “It is through continued education and vigilance that we can prevent these abuses from ever happening again.”

Such protests reduce the chance of a future cover-up and give strength to victims, said Robert Gossart, a Maine representative of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Gossart, who is 76 and a retired psychiatrist, said he was abused by a priest as a teenager in Belgium in 1949.

In a release announcing the protest, Clark said both Cheverus and Penn State are guilty of “complicity in knowingly allowing a reported child molester to continue having contact with the school and students.”

Rick Romano joined in the protest. The Portland man described how Malia’s abuse started at Cathedral School, where he would enter the stalls where students were showering and grab them inappropriately. When Romano objected, he said Malia took him to a basement and beat his buttocks until they bled.

The physical abuse stopped after a teacher discovered him, he said, but Malia was then hired by Cheverus.

Romano questioned what type of screening the high school did before hiring Malia.

“I just can’t believe he ended up here,” Romano said.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]