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Bishop will act if more victims emerge

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The Catholic Bishop of Hamilton said yesterday he would launch an investigation if more victims of former Mount Saint Agnes Academy history teacher Robert DiGiacomo came forward.

The Most Reverend Wes Spiewak said former pupils should contact him if they knew of any wrongdoing that occurred during Mr DiGiacomo's 20-year teaching career at the Catholic private school.

He added: “I will go forward with all the investigation possible.

“If anything comes to light in this case, I am open to any proper action in this sense, in co-operation with the police.”

The bishop was speaking after Christine DaCosta, a former MSA pupil, asked the board of governors of the school last year to launch an investigation into how the school handled her complaint of sexual exploitation by Mr DiGiacomo in 1999.

She requested the school look into whether Mr DiGiacomo, whose wife, Margaret, was deputy principal at MSA until her retirement this summer and who still does substitute teaching at the school, groomed any other pupils.

Ms DaCosta suggested the Hamilton school should follow the example of Saltus Grammar School, which hired New York-based security company T&M Protection Resources last year to investigate historic allegations of sexual touching and grooming of pupils against a former primary schoolteacher.

T&M set up a widely publicised confidential hotline and e-mail address for those with information to come forward.

Interviews were held with 12 former pupils, and T&M's report, which concluded that sexual assaults had happened, was passed to police.

But Paul Fortuna, the chairman of the MSA board of governors, told Ms DaCosta it was not “appropriate” for MSA to investigate whether there were other victims, as that would be “straying into a criminal investigation”.

The school instead hired British-based lawyer Helen Snowball to conduct an inquiry, with its scope limited to determining how the relationship with Ms DaCosta was able to develop, how it was discovered, what sanctions/safeguarding followed, whether other staff knew about it and to review historic and present child-safeguarding policies.

It concluded in May this year that MSA did not “have knowledge of Robert DiGiacomo's propensity to engage in inappropriate behaviour before his misconduct” in relation to Ms DaCosta, and that no other staff knew about their relationship.

Another former pupil, Ms X, told The Royal Gazette that Mr DiGiacomo forcibly kissed her in 1981 and that the school asked her father for information about the incident several years later [see separate story].

MSA's investigation last year included an interview with Ms X.

Ms DaCosta said: “Victims don't tend to just come out of isolation for fear of the shame and guilt.

“ They have the power to help try and uncover if there were more victims, but they are choosing to steer clear of trying to uncover the potential of an ugly past.”

The school told Ms DaCosta that the school principal in 1999 took “all necessary safeguarding steps by reporting the matter to [the Department of Child and] Family Services, and writing to stakeholders to advise that Robert DiGiacomo should not be allowed to take a teaching or coaching role in the future”.

Mr DiGiacomo, a retired major in the US Army Reserve who once worked in the former United Bermuda Party's central office, is now a professional development coach and a representative in Bermuda, of the US-based Christian leadership expert John C. Maxwell.

Mr Fortuna said: “The school received a complaint from a former pupil on November 9, 2018, which made very serious allegations against a former member of teaching staff, in respect of events dating back 20 years when she was a 17-year old pupil at MSA.

“MSA responded to the complaint by commissioning an independent law firm to carry out a thorough investigation which revealed that the teacher in question tendered his resignation when the subject of the complaint was revealed to senior members of teaching staff.

“He was escorted from MSA premises and never returned to the school campus.

“The school has not received any other complaints from former pupils, but if any complaints are made, they will also be thoroughly investigated.”

The board chairman and Susan Moench, the MSA principal, declined to be interviewed.

Mr Fortuna said: “We will be making no further comment in regards to this matter.”

Bishop Spiewak, who came to Bermuda in 2015, said MSA did the right thing in 1999 by removing Mr DiGiacomo from the school.

He added: “I believe the actions corresponded to the standards and norms of the time.”

He said the case had caused the Church and school to develop a policy to tackle the exploitation of minors.

Teachers at MSA, along with anyone working in the Catholic Church in Bermuda, are also now required to undergo training from child sex abuse prevention charity Scars.

Sister Judith Rollo, who was principal of MSA in 1999, was asked to comment.

She said in an e-mail: “I am very fond of Christine and feel for her pain. However, I will make no comment on this matter.”

The Most Reverend Wes Spiewak, Catholic Bishop of Hamilton, can be contacted at bishopwes.bm@gmail.com. All cases of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse should be reported to Bermuda Police Service's Vulnerable Persons Unit on 247-1678

On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on a story that we deem might inflame sensitivities or discontinue them when the discourse is lowered by commenters to unacceptable standards. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

Mount Saint Agnes (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Mount Saint Agnes (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published October 25, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated October 25, 2019 at 9:37 am)

Bishop will act if more victims emerge

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