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BOSTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - Three former Catholic students are suing Cdl. Seán O'Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, for covering up alleged sex abuse by a former principal of the Arlington Catholic School.
The lawsuit against the cardinal, who heads the Boston archdiocese where clerical sex abuse scandals first exploded in 2002, was filed on May 5 — a day after O'Malley admitted that the commission has been "the subject of intense criticism both internally and externally."
"Cardinal O'Malley has failed woefully in protecting children within the archdiocese of Boston, never mind worldwide," attorney Mitchell Garabedian told reporters Monday.
Garabedian emphasized the prelate's role as president of the child protection commission.
Bishop Robert Deeley, head of the diocese of Portland, Maine, and Bp. Peter Uglietto, an auxiliary bishop of the Boston archdiocese, are also named in the lawsuit, which was obtained by Church Militant. Both hold the position of vicar general.
The civil suit alleges that Stephen Biagioni, a former vice principal at Arlington Catholic High School, sexually abused the boys who were between the ages of 15 and 17 from 2011 to 2016.
The cardinal and the two bishops "knew, or were negligent in not knowing" that Biagioni, who was later promoted to principal, engaged "in explicit sexual behavior and lewd and lascivious conduct," the complaint states.
Biagioni would wrestle students who were placed in detention at the school and would force their heads up against his genitals, the plaintiffs complain. The boys said they have suffered from anger, flashbacks and sleep problems because of the abuse.
Among other things, the complaint states, Biagioni also rubbed his penis against one boy's body and forced the student's head between Biagioni's legs so that Biagioni's penis was pressed against the boy's head.
Biagioni used his position within the diocese and his relationships with the prelates "to sexually abuse minor children," the lawsuit adds. Cardinal O'Malley and his bishops, the suit states, "covered up" the "inappropriate and unlawful sexual activities of Stephen Biagioni."
In a separate lawsuit filed last August, former Arlington Catholic School student Kevin Doherty accused Biagioni of sexually abusing him from 1999 to 2001. Also named in Doherty's suit were former Boston chancery officials Bp. Richard Malone and Bp. William Murphy, both of whom are accused of sex abuse cover-up.
"Once again, we have to look at the secret files to see what Cdl. O'Malley has information concerning Biagioni and concerning what his supervisors knew," Garabedian said. "It's time for O'Malley to reveal what he has substantively in those secret files concerning the sexual abuse ... of three innocent children."
The lawsuit against O'Malley is the latest blow to the credibility of the child protection commission. Its key adviser, Fr. Hans Zollner, a world-renowned Jesuit expert on clerical sex abuse, quit the commission in March.
Zollner published his candid letter of resignation on Twitter three hours after O'Malley announced that Zollner was resigning because he was too busy to serve on the commission.
In an unusually blunt statement contradicting O'Malley, Zollner said he was "increasingly concerned" with the commission's approach to safeguarding, "particularly in the areas of responsibility, compliance, accountability, and transparency," Church Militant reported.
"In my work with the commission, I have noticed issues that need to be urgently addressed and which have made it impossible for me to continue," Zollner wrote in his resignation letter.
"With regard to compliance, there has been a lack of clarity regarding the selection process of members and staff and their respective roles and responsibilities," Zollner, the public face of Pope Francis' efforts to tackle the global abuse scandal, wrote.
The Jesuit specifically lamented the lack of "transparency on how decisions are taken in the commission," complaining that "too often, there was insufficient information and vague communication with members on how particular decisions were taken."
Earlier, Cdl. O'Malley released a statement in Rome announcing that Zollner "has asked to be relieved of his duties as a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors."
"Hans told me that he came to this decision after reflection on his recent appointment as consultant for safeguarding to the diocese of Rome," O'Malley wrote. "In light of this and all his other responsibilities, he has asked to be excused from his place."
Francesco Zanardi, founder of Italian survivors' group Rete L'Abuso (the Abuse Network), said on the group's website that Zollner was the last remaining founding member of the commission and its most influential member.
In 2016, Peter Saunders, an outspoken English victim of clerical sex abuse, quit the commission and accused the Church of obstructing it from carrying out its tasks.
Saunders, a practicing Catholic, was arrested in 2019 after he was caught having a sexual encounter in a restaurant bathroom stall with a woman he knew had been molested as a youngster.
In 2017, Marie Collins, an Irishwoman who was abused by her priest at the age of 13, resigned from the commission and announced that she "couldn't remain and retain my integrity."
Collins said that the commission's work was considered "by some as an interference," and there was "a general reluctance to cooperate."
In spite of a letter O'Malley received detailing McCarrick's serial sex abuse of seminarians, O'Malley welcomed him to a fundraising gala in fall of 2015 that raised $2 million for the archdiocese. He also traveled to Cuba with McCarrick a week later, holding a joint talk with him as well as concelebrating Mass, even calling him "wonderful" in a blog post.