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St. Ignatius goes on defensive after allegations of sexual abuse by former drama teacher

St. Ignatius College Preparatory School is located at 2001 37th Ave. in San Francisco. | Source: Courtesy Google Streetview

The San Francisco Catholic school St. Ignatius went on the defensive after a former student filed a lawsuit alleging that he was sexually abused by his drama teacher, with the elite educational institution emailing alumni Monday morning to reassure them that the school had taken appropriate action.

In a lawsuit initially filed in December against St. Ignatius College Preparatory, former teacher Peter Devine and the local branch of the Jesuit Order, the former student says that he went to speak with Devine about taking part in theater productions when he was a freshman in 1996.

But after their discussion, Devine forcibly kissed him, an assault that “deeply affected” him, the lawsuit alleges.

When the student was required to take an English class taught by Devine in his senior year, he was “subjected to further touching and physical manipulation” by Devine, according to the suit.

The suit also stated that, roughly a decade later, another faculty member witnessed Devine pinning a different student to the wall in a “sexually intimidating posture.”

The Standard reached Devine by phone, but he declined to comment and hung up. St. Ignatius did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.

In an email sent out to alumni on Monday morning, the school said it had followed proper protocol when the former student came forward with the allegation in April 2022.

Principal Michelle Levine immediately filed a report with the San Francisco Police Department and placed Devine on administrative leave. The school then hired an independent, outside investigator to look into the allegations, school president Edward Reese wrote in the email.

“Upon receiving the results of the investigation, SI immediately and promptly took appropriate action, and the teacher no longer works at SI,” he wrote.

“If you or someone you know has been abused, please contact me or local authorities,” the message concluded.

For the victim, the suit is about more than getting compensation, according to his lawyer, Timothy Hale.

Within a year of the abuse, his client attempted suicide, which caused him severe injuries, Hale told The Standard. 

That was not the end of his suffering, Hale said. 

“He has struggled with it for years,” Hale said. “A big part of [his decision to come forward] was that he has children who are approaching the age he was when he was abused. He was highly motivated because he does not want this to happen to other children.”

Beyond seeking damages, the suit also asks the court to order the school and the Jesuits to identify all priests and schoolteachers who have been accused of child molestation—and not just those who have been deemed “credibly accused”—and to stop addressing these allegations in secret.

For Hale, the case is a microcosm of what he says is an institutional culture in which St. Ignatius and the Jesuit Order prioritize their reputation ahead of the welfare of children.

He notes that the Archdiocese of San Francisco remains one of the few in California that has not released a list of its priests and teachers who have faced allegations of sexual abuse. On Monday, the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy amid a wave of sexual abuse lawsuits that it has faced in recent years.

According to Hale, the alumni email’s call for other victims to contact the school’s president or law enforcement is “entirely consistent with the culture of secrecy and keeping these matters internal to the organization.”

“That’s not the way the mandatory reporting obligations work,” Hale said.