Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ex-friar had been accused of sex misconduct in previous school

September 26, 2009


School puts teacher on leave

Ex-friar had been accused of sex misconduct with student in Mainland job

By Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer

A Mainland Catholic order that sanctioned one of its friars for alleged sexual misconduct said Kamehameha Schools did not contact it when the school decided to hire him as a teacher at its Kapalama campus.

Thomas Gardipee, a Kamehameha Schools teacher since 2002, had been suspended from his job as athletic director at St. Lawrence Seminary, a Roman Catholic prep school in Wisconsin, in December 1992.

The Capuchin Province of St. Joseph in Detroit said Gardipee was barred from working with children during the remaining nine years that he remained in the Capuchin order after a former student accused him of exposing himself and intimidation.

Gardipee and the Capuchin province were sued by the former student in Wisconsin in 1993 and the lawsuit was settled out of court. Criminal charges also were filed but were dismissed.

"Mr. Gardipee was suspended from teaching and other ministry in December 1992," said John Celichowski, provincial minister of the the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph. "He was not permitted to return to teaching and did not do so during the remainder of his time in the Capuchin order. In addition, he was prohibited from engaging in any ministry involving minors.

"The province concluded that, while his reported conduct did not result in a criminal conviction, it was inappropriate and unacceptable for a friar — particularly one working with young people. Therefore, he was not permitted to return to teaching."

Gardipee, 52, declined comment when contacted by The Advertiser earlier this week.

His attorney, Dean Choy, said in an e-mail Wednesday that the criminal charges against Gardipee have been dismissed and that his client "is presumed innocent." He also threatened legal action against The Advertiser if his client were defamed.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Choy said he was not aware of any disciplinary actions against Gardipee by the Catholic order.

Kamehameha Schools officials said Gardipee "remains an employee in good standing" but has been placed on leave, pending its investigation into the matter. School officials said they followed the school's normal hiring process and conducted criminal background and reference checks when they hired Gardipee.

Ann Botticelli, the school's vice president of community relations, said Gardipee has been a "valued and well-respected member" of the school's faculty.

"The allegations in question occurred 22 years ago," Botticelli said. "We have not received any questions that indicate there are more recent allegations."

Celichowski said his organization has no records indicating that Kamehameha Schools contacted its offices in Detroit or the rector of St. Lawrence Seminary to inquire about Gardipee's employment history.

"If a school had inquired about Gardipee's background in preparation for hiring him, the province and/or St. Lawrence would have provided the information that we were required and able to provide under the law," he said.

"We also would have encouraged and assumed that the inquirer would have done a background check that would include a review of available public records, including documents available from Wisconsin courts, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, etc."

According to a public database of the Wisconsin court system, Gardipee was charged in January 1993 with enticement of a child and intimidation of a witness.

A 1993 Associated Press story said the case stems from a 1987 incident at the whirlpool room in St. Lawrence Seminary's gym in which the student complained of back pains and Gardipee suggested that he use the school's whirlpool. According to the AP report, the student accused Gardipee of taking off his clothes and performing a sex act.

The boy also accused Gardipee of throwing him against a gym office wall several weeks later after he complained about Gardipee's earlier behavior, according to the AP report.

Another student told police he was aware of incidents in 1985 when Gardipee allegedly would provide seniors with alcohol, show them pornography and ask if they would masturbate with him, the AP reported.

The Chicago Tribune later reported that the criminal case was dismissed in March 1993 due to lack of probable cause. A civil lawsuit associated with the alleged harassment was settled in 1996, and its terms were sealed.

Celichowski said Gardipee "acknowledged the impropriety of some of his actions" but Celichowski would not be more specific.

From his suspension in 1992 to 2001, when he left the order, Gardipee lived at the Capuchin residence at St. Anthony Retreat in Marathon, Wis., where he made and sold pottery.

Gardipee's background came to light following concerns raised recently by Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a national victims' advocacy group.

In a letter to school president Mike Chun yesterday, Peter Isely, SNAP's Midwest regional director, called on the school to suspend Gardipee and conduct an investigation into the former Capuchin friar's past.

"I am writing specifically to express the alarm and concern from victims of sexual abuse in Wisconsin and especially survivors who were harmed as children by former Capuchin brother Thomas Gardipee," said Isely, a former student at St. Lawrence.

"The children of your storied and famous school deserve as much protection and care, surely, as the children in Wisconsin."

Some parents and students expressed support for Gardipee. Lori Rodriguez, whose daughter is in Gardipee's history course, said she was "saddened and embarrassed" for him but says he is a great teacher.

"The kids love him," said Rodriguez, a Kailua resident. "I am totally supporting him."

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