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Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal Opens Old Wounds at Maine School
11/22/2011   Reported By: Josie Huang

A celebrated coach accused of abusing the school-age boys who idolize him.

That describes former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky, who allegedly molested eight boys. It's also the story of Charles Malia, a former teacher and track coach at Cheverus High School in Portland, who in 2000 admitted to sexually abusing students at the Catholic school decades before.

For those who say Malia molested them in the 1960s and 1970s, the Sandusky case is opening old wounds, and, they say, strengthening their resolve to seek damages.

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Left to right, protesters John Clark, Dr. Robert Gossart and Rick Romano outside Cheverus High School.

"Obviously the parallels between that and our experiences were very strong, and it prompted a lot of us to want to speak out at this time a little bit more forcefully and publicly," says John Clark, who is protesting with five other Malia accusers and their supporters outside Cheverus High school on the last day before students break for Thanksgiving vacation.
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Clark, who is 48 and a photographer, says he and his older brother, Leo, are among at least eight people who were abused by Malia (pictured in Cheverus yearbook, right). Two of the clients approached the school this summer seeking damages of $1 million each. But the school this month informed them it would not enter into mediation -- coincidentally, around the time the Sandusky scandal broke.

"It's put a lot of people who've gone through this experience into a lot of distress when they thought they actually would maybe finally be acknowledged, you know, in a more solid way," Clark says.

Mitchell Garabedian is the Boston attorney representing the two men, whom he will not name, as well as four other former Cheverus students. "The Jesuit school has turned its back on these individuals and said, 'Well, we've done enough.' Well, what is enough when you allow a child, an innocent child, to be sexually molested by a predator?"

Melissa Hewey, Cheverus' attorney, says the school's board rejected mediation because they felt their offer of counseling to the former students had been appropriate. Hewey says the other issue is that the school doesn't have the resources to compensate Malia's accusers.

"Usually if there's a settlement of a claim, an insurance company would participate in that so that it's not coming out of, say,the school's operating fund," Hewey says. "But the school doesn't have liability insurance for the period that these things were happening."

The school issued a public apology,  after Malia himself admitted sexual misconduct to the Portland Press Herald.

Malia resigned from Cheverus in 1998, his name taken off the school track. He was never charged by police. They said they found no evidence that Malia had abused anyone after 1993; child sexual-abuse cases before then are subject to a statute of limitations for criminal prosecution.
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Cheverus Vice President Brian Dudley (left) says the school was aware of the protest ahead of time and informed students during an ecumenical service.

"Our principal actually got up and spoke about demonstration happening today, and the need for us to be respectful, to be sympathetic, to understand that as a part of Cheverus' history that we're not proud of," Dudley says.

That history also includes Father James Talbot, who was accused in 1998 of abusing a 15-year-old student. Dudley says since the allegations started surfacing, the school has instituted a number of protections for students. "All of our employees now go through criminal background checks, everyone must participate through a Diocesan program called 'Protecting God's Children.' We also have our outside coaches go through an abuse program," Dudley says.

But those who say they were abused feel they are being left behind, and would like the damages to help them move on with lives that have been wracked by broken relationships, anxiety, depression.

Among those protesting outside the school is Dr. Robert Gossart, a retired psychiatrist who used to work at Acadia Hospital in Bangor and says he was abused by a priest as a boy. Gossart says abuse victims seek damages more for validation than anything else.

"Most victims of sexual abuse do not talk about it," Gossart says. "So just the fact to be heard, to be believed, is some how healing and helpful."

Garabedian, the lawyer for six of Malia's accusers, says he's still researching the possibility of filing suit against the school.

Photos by Josie Huang.


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