The Seattle Archdiocese asks to move sex-abuse claims against the Christian Brothers religious order into bankruptcy court in New York.

Share story

The Archdiocese of Seattle is asking that the most recent lawsuit alleging it was complicit in the sexual abuse of an O’Dea High School student by a pedophile teacher be moved to bankruptcy court in New York, where the Christian Brothers order that employed the alleged abuser has sought Chapter 11 protection.

Archdiocese attorney Michael Patterson said the move is a tactical one aimed at asset protection. It comes as the archdiocese continues to defend itself against civil actions seeking damages for the alleged sexual abuse of dozens, if not hundreds, of boys by teachers belonging to the Christian Brothers religious order.

The Congregation of Christian Brothers in North America, the order that runs O’Dea High School — the archdiocese’s flagship school for boys — filed bankruptcy in New York in April as it sought protection from mounting legal claims, mostly from Seattle, but also involving children in Illinois and Michigan.

The order’s business and financial entity, called Christian Brothers Institute, also has filed for protection under Chapter 11.

Several other related Christian Brothers orders have not filed for bankruptcy and are named as defendants in many of the lawsuits filed in Seattle.

As a result, Patterson said that moving any future lawsuits into the bankruptcy court would allow the claims to be sorted out through the bankruptcy process while protecting the archdiocese from being held entirely liable for the claims, regardless of its actual share of any blame.

Two other pending claims out of Seattle already have been referred to the bankruptcy court.

The most recent claim involves a student identified as “W.D.,” who said he was molested while a student at O’Dea by Brother Edward Courtney.

The claim says Courtney had abused students at schools in Michigan and Illinois before being sent to Seattle, where he worked first as an O’Dea administrator and later as a principal of St. Alphonsus School in Ballard.

The lawsuits alleges the Christian Brothers and officials at all of the schools knew Courtney was molesting children, but did nothing.

Courtney, who later became a public-school teacher, has been convicted of indecent liberties.

More than 70 former Catholic-school students have sued the archdiocese and the Christian Brothers in the past eight years, and the lawyer who has handled most of those claims, Michael Pfau, said more are in the pipeline.

So far, Pfau said, about 50 of those claims have been settled for roughly $25 million.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com