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Lawsuit Claims Abuse by Nuns at School for Deaf

Nine former students at a Roman Catholic school for the deaf filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging they were raped, beaten and tormented decades ago by the nuns who ran the place.

They accused at least 14 nuns in the lawsuit, along with a priest and a male athletic instructor at the now-defunct Boston School for the Deaf (search), and a former top official of the Boston Archdiocese (search), according to their lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian.

The case is the first to allege widespread abuse by nuns in the Boston area since the sex scandal that engulfed the archdiocese began in 2002.

The alleged victims — three women and six men — ranged in age from 7 to 16 when, they claim, they were sexually and physically abused between 1944 and 1977.

The Boston School for the Deaf, in Randolph, was run by an independent, nonprofit corporation until it closed more than a decade ago.

"They are all speech-impaired and hearing-impaired," said Garabedian, who represents 31 former students and expects to file more lawsuits. "Instead of receiving an education they received beatings and sexually abusive actions."

The nuns named in the lawsuit are from the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph (search) of Boston. Their order served as faculty and administration at the school.

Garabedian said the abuse included fondling, rape, and rape with foreign objects. At least one student's head was submerged in a toilet until she passed out; others were locked in closets for hours as punishment, the plaintiffs said. The alleged victims are now 41 to 67 years old.

More than two dozen plaintiffs and supporters filled a hotel conference room Tuesday, several of them making statements through sign language interpreters.

James Sullivan, 55, of Boston, attended the school from 1953 to 1967. He said his head was slammed into a wall and a door one day, and he was slapped around and hit with a yardstick until he was bloody. When he told his parents, Sullivan said, they did not listen to him.

"They felt the nuns were right, you know, they had to discipline me," he said.

Some of the defendants were accused of participating in the abuse; others, like Bishop Thomas V. Daily, who held several top posts in the Boston Archdiocese, were accused of negligence in supervising the others.

William Shaevel, an attorney for the school, said he had not yet received details of the allegations.

"We've asked for but have not received any of the specifics, so we have not been able to conduct our own investigation," he said. "Our guiding principle here will be to conduct our investigation and deal with this with sensitivity, respect and dignity."

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, did not immediately return a call for comment.

Last year, the archdiocese reached an $85 million settlement with more than 550 people who said they were abused by priests.