Sex-Abuse Lawsuit Names Ex-Teacher and Archdiocese
The New York Times Company
September 15, 2000
In the 1980′s, in the quiet parish of St. Frances de Chantal in Throgs Neck, the Bronx, Linda Baisi was teaching junior high school. A former nun, she had left the convent and rented an apartment from the parish school secretary.
And in that apartment, according to a young man who knew her as teacher and confirmation sponsor, Ms. Baisi carried on a sexual relationship with him from the time he was 12 years old until his sophomore year in high school, later giving him gifts, leaving cash for him in envelopes at the rectory and begging him to keep the encounters a secret.
Now, in a civil case that will test the legal responsibility of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York as well as the school and its former teacher, the former student, Brian O’Rourke, 25, claims that he was tormented for years and has only recently managed to overcome drug and alcohol problems.
Opening statements are scheduled this morning in State Supreme Court in Manhattan in the trial, which will proceed without Ms. Baisi (pronounced BAY-zee) present. She has not appeared in court and was not represented by a lawyer during jury selection, which ended yesterday.
“She has no money to pay for a lawyer, and there’s frankly no reason for her to appear,” Brian O’Dwyer, Ms. Baisi’s lawyer, said yesterday from Washington. He added that she denied the allegations in the suit.
Ms. Baisi, now 52, had been the director of religious education and became principal of the school. She was dismissed after Mr. O’Rourke filed suit in 1996. Mr. O’Dwyer would not discuss her whereabouts but said she no longer lived in New York and was no longer teaching.
The other defendants, the archdiocese and the school, are accused of negligence in their training and supervision of Ms. Baisi. Both maintain that they did not know of any sexual abuse and said that Mr. O’Rourke did not come forward, not even telling his parents until he was 21.
Mr. O’Rourke’s lawyers, Michael G. Dowd and Paul Mones, have contended that classmates and neighbors knew of a sexual relationship between teacher and student.
The lawyers have cited an anonymous letter to the rectory, which the defendants have denied receiving, that notified the parish authorities.
They said they planned to play audiotapes in court of telephone conversations between Mr. O’Rourke and Ms. Baisi that Mr. O’Rourke secretly recorded in 1996. In a transcript of one of the tapes, in which Mr. O’Rourke tells Ms. Baisi of pressure from his therapists to disclose the name of his abuser, he reminds her of a letter that discloses the incidents.
Court documents describe a teacher who gave her seventh graders breakfast every day in the classroom and invited Mr. O’Rourke to her apartment several times a month.
Mr. O’Rourke said in pretrial testimony that students, parents and teachers knew that Ms. Baisi bought him clothes and other gifts, and that his peers taunted him for it.
He said the encounters involved oral sex.
Mr. O’Rourke attended Iona College but left during his first semester and was unable to keep a job due to his alcohol, marijuana and cocaine use, according to court documents. Counselors at a rehabilitation program in Florida urged him to report past sexual abuse to the authorities. Upon returning to New York, he taped conversations with Ms. Baisi.
In their intermittent conversations, Mr. O’Rourke said, Ms. Baisi often asked if he needed cash and voiced concern that she would be discovered.
Ms. Baisi could be found liable in the case but would probably be unable to pay any judgment, Mr. O’Dwyer said. The archdiocese would not represent her or contribute to her defense, he added.
The liability of the school and the archdiocese, which are represented separately, turns on whether they knew or should have known that there was reason to investigate Ms. Baisi’s conduct.
In New York City, , teachers and other school personnel are required by law to report suspected abuse by others.
While civil suits alleging sexual abuse by teachers are not tracked, and the vast majority are settled to avoid any public disclosure, lawyers say they are becoming more frequent.
Justice Louise Gruner Gans has ordered lawyers in the O’Rourke case not to discuss it, and a spokesman for the archdiocese, Joseph Zwilling, said he could not comment further.