By HARRY HUGGINS
Published: August 22, 2012, FordhamObserver.com
Despite passing a criminal background check in 2011, Br. James A. Ligouri, former associate vice president and executive director of Fordham’s Westchester campus, resigned July 20 after a claim that he sexually abused a child was made public.
According to a story posted on the website of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the alleged victim, known as John Doe, filed on July 19 a claim in bankruptcy court alleging sexual abuse by Liguori. The alleged incidents occured in 1969, when the victim attended the Cardinal Farley Military Academy in Rhinecliff, New York. Liguori is a member of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers, formerly known as the Irish Christian Brothers.
Two days later, on July 21, Fordham sent an email to the community expressing their awareness of the allegations against Liguori and his subsequent resignation. The email from Father Joseph M. McShane, S.J., said Liguori passed a criminal background check when he was hired in 2011.
Fordham uses A-Check America for background checks on new hires. One recent hire who wished to remain anonymous described the background check process as rigorous, asking for all employers from the last seven years, and even addresses from when she lived out of the country. Fordham’s employment application does ask for applicants to list any convictions, but does not ask for pending lawsuits or bankruptcy claims.
According to various sources, Liguori was able to pass his background check because he was never convicted of a crime. A representative from the law firm representing Doe said that there were never any formal charges filed against Ligouri.
Robert Hoatson is co-founder and president of Road to Recovery, a survivors network for victims of sexual abuse by priests. He was contacted by Liguori’s alleged victim in 2008 and worked with him before Doe decided he was not ready to continue with litigation.
The lawsuit stems from the aftermath of Doe’s allegations. Although the Brothers stated that they could not substantiate Doe’s claims after completing their own investigation, they did offer to cover the costs of therapy, according to an article on LoHud.com. When the Brothers refused to cover more than one therapy session per week, Doe made his claim to receive the two or three sessions he believed he deserved.
Hoatson said that during his time working with Liguori and the Brothers, there was nothing explicit that would hint at him sexually abusing a child. “I didn’t have any knowledge or suspicion of him having abused anybody,” Hoatson said. “He was a climber; he endeared himself to the higher-ups, and was moving up the world of leadership at various levels.”
The Edmund Rice Christian Brothers have made headlines recently as a series of sexual abuse allegations against them became public. According to Michael Reck, an attorney working on similar cases against the Brothers, these allegations are all coming out now because of the organization’s bankruptcy filing.
With lawsuits against the organization piling up across the country, the organization’s attorneys decided that filing bankruptcy would be a better option than going to trial on all of them. As part of the bankruptcy procedures, claims against the Brothers had to be filed before Aug. 1. Reck said a little more than 400 claims came in as a result of them, including the claim involving Liguori.
“One question is why didn’t someone come forward earlier,” Reck said. “The answer is because they were hurt as children. Most people are not able to fully comprehend the nature and effect of what happened. A lot of people can never talk about this. The ones that do, it’s a little later in life.”
In New York state, however, waiting has consequences. Due to the New York statute of limitations, it would be too late to litigate now something that happened in 1969.
“Organizations like the Brothers will essentially placate the survivor,” Reck said, “and once they know the statue of limitations has passed, they’re essentially left out in the cold. Even if it was reported to the police, they wouldn’t be able to prosecute because the statue of limitations is so strict that if you don’t report by age 21, there’s very little you can do.”
In his email to the Fordham community, McShane also expressed the seriousness of these claims. “Fordham’s primary concern is always for the victim in such cases,” McShane said. “It could not be otherwise. I know that you keep anyone who has been so victimized in your thoughts and prayers.”