Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Woman, 72, claims sex abuse in 1930s

She and 2 others added to suits against Sisters of Charity

By Ellen R. Stapleton
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - The latest claims against the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth allege sexual abuse happened at a now-defunct orphanage as early as the 1930s.

Gladys Cambron, at 72 the oldest person to sue, said she was molested by two nuns and a priest starting at age 6.

Cambron was among three people added Tuesday to a lawsuit filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court against the sisters. It brings the number of plaintiffs to 24.

Cambron said she lived at St. Vincent Orphanage in Louisville, which was owned and operated by the sisters, from 1938 until 1943. At that time, her maternal grandparents took custody of her and her older sister and raised them.

"You couldn't imagine the difference," Cambron said through tears in an interview Tuesday. "It was just like going to heaven."

In 1952, St. Vincent combined with St. Thomas Orphanage in Anchorage, which was owned by the Archdiocese of Louisville. The archdiocese maintained ownership after the merger while the nuns staffed the facility.

Other plaintiffs have claimed abuse occurred at St. Thomas-St. Vincent Orphanage between from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Like most of the other plaintiffs, Cambron accused the Rev. Herman J. Lammers, longtime Catholic Charities director who was the orphanage's resident chaplain, of sexual abuse. He died in 1986.

Barbara Qualls, a spokeswoman for the sisters, said the two nuns Cambron accused, Frances Howard and Stanislas Kotska Willett, are also dead. Willett served as mother superior of the orphanage from 1940 to 1944, Qualls said.

Cambron said she once was punished for talking in class. A nun tied`her in a chair and "beat the life out of me," she said.

"The only thing we did was to be born," she said. "People in prison lived better than we did."

Two men, 38-year-old Wendall Richardson and 57-year-old Robert Morley, also joined the lawsuit Tuesday. Richardson said Lammers molested him in the 1970s and Morley said a basketball coach identified as "Mr. Corney" fondled him in the 1950s.

The order and its attorney say they have not found evidence of abuse or a cover-up at the orphanage.

"We're dismayed, we are troubled, we are heartbroken when anything of this kind is alleged," Qualls said. "It's a heartbreaking experience for the sisters."

After leaving the orphanage, Cambron described her life as "wonderful." She worked as a bank executive and eventually married in 1980.

But she said she needed closure for the abuse, prompting her to speak of what happened for the first time last week when she contacted an attorney.

"I never told anyone this in my life, and it's been there 60 years," she said. "And when you dig it out, it's hard to deal with."

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