A 14-year-old boy caught skipping school was ordered to attend a church-run facility for orphans and troubled youths outside New Orleans where he said a Catholic priest and nun sexually abused him.
Now he’s suing — roughly 46 years later.
Louisiana lawmakers lifted the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases last year, giving survivors a brief window of opportunity to seek justice in the courts against their alleged abusers. Larry Polizzi is among those taking advantage of the law, which expires in 2024.
Polizzi said in court documents that he was abused at the hands of religious leaders during a brief but “nightmarish” stay in 1976 at Hope Haven, a Catholic orphanage and residential youth facility.
“Our client has waited a very long time for the opportunity for justice and accountability for those responsible for him when he was a vulnerable child in their care,” Jessica Arbour with Horowitz Law, who is representing Polizzi, said in a news release.
The lawsuit names the religious orders of Salesians of Don Bosco and School Sisters of Notre Dame as defendants. The two entities were reportedly in charge of assigning priests and nuns to run Hope Haven and its sister facility, Madonna Manor. Polizzi’s attorneys said they had a duty to protect the children in their care and instead concealed allegations of sexual abuse against their members.
Representatives from the two religious orders did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment on Wednesday, March 16.
According to his petition filed March 10 in the 19th Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, Polizzi was 14 years old when he was sent to Hope Haven by a judge overseeing his truancy case.
Hope Haven is in Marrero, Louisiana, on the south bank of the Mississippi River. The campus was known for its “ornate Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings,” according to MyNewOrleans, but has been marred by allegations of rampant sexual abuse.
Nearly 60 men sued the facility and its sister facility in 2008 alleging they were molested by religious leaders there, according to Horowitz Law. Many of those suits have since been settled.
Polizzi’s attorneys said he was “raised by a devoutly religious mother” and was taught to “revere and respect all religious authority figures,” including Catholic priests and nuns. But when he got to Hope Haven, at least two individuals took advantage of that trust by sexually abusing him over a period of months, they said.
The lawsuit names his alleged abusers as Sean Leo Rooney and Alvin Marie Hagan.
Rooney was a Roman Catholic priest ordained in 1966 who was removed from the clergy in 2008 following numerous allegations of child molestation. Hagan was a nun who died in 2007, court documents state.
Rooney could not be reached for comment by McClatchy News.
Polizzi’s attorneys said Rooney and Hagan engaged in “illegal sexual contact” with him at Hope Haven, including “fondling and masturbation.” The abuse reportedly led to a “lifetime of physical and psychological effects.”
“I’ve been ashamed of myself for many years and I feel, for what they done to me, from the time I was 14, they need to be held accountable,” Polizzi told WGNO.
His lawyers said the Salesians of Don Bosco and School Sisters of Notre Dame knew or should have known that Rooney and Hagan were accused “serial sexual abusers of minor children” given that there were other allegations before, during and after Polizzi was in their care.
But instead of addressing the problem, the lawsuit states, they engaged in an elaborate and systemic cover-up to protect religious leaders within their ranks from allegations of rampant sexual abuse.
“Despite actual and/or constructive knowledge of the perpetrators’ deviant sexual interests and behaviors with minor children, the defendants undertook no meaningful investigation or responsive action against the perpetrators whatsoever and continued to give each of them unfettered access to minor children entrusted to their care at Hope Haven,” Polizzi’s attorneys said in the petition.
The lawsuit accuses the religious orders of negligence and vicarious liability. Polizzi is seeking damages for psychical injury, mental and emotional pain and suffering, humiliation, anger, psychological damage, diminished quality of life and loss of enjoyment of life.
His is the third such lawsuit filed by Horowitz Law and The Bezou Law Firm in recent weeks centered on allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.
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