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Catholic school principal sues for $1 million over departure

It started with a janitor at a Catholic school in Revere using a bathroom urinal with students present.

After a parent complained, the episode led to a community crisis: A second-grade teacher, the school principal, and the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish resigned. The police and Suffolk prosecutors swiftly cleared the janitor of criminal wrongdoing. Nearly 1,000 parents and parishioners signed a petition asking for a meeting with Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston.

Now, the former principal, Alison Kelly, is suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston for more than $1 million. She claims the church forced her to resign in January even though she had immediately reported the parent’s complaints to the pastor in charge of the school.

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The ousting of Kelly, who was principal for about three years, and her colleagues “was a cold, calculated attempt by the church to do some face-saving at the expense of innocent people,” said Kelly’s attorney, Gerard F. Malone, in an interview.

The church, her lawsuit says, remains haunted by the sexual-abuse crisis that rocked the Boston archdiocese more than a dozen years ago, which Immaculate Conception felt directly. The Rev. James Porter, a notorious child abuser who died in prison, molested children there in the 1960s.

The lawsuit says the archdiocese did not bother with a full investigation into the recent episode “because it served their own aims to appear to be taking quick and decisive action against its employees.”

Hugh R. Curran, an attorney for the teacher, said his client plans to file a similar lawsuit within days.

Kelly, 44, unsuccessfully applied for more than 100 jobs this year, her lawsuit says, and recently took a paraprofessional position earning $12.63 per hour, with no benefits. Curran said his client, who was in her first year at the school, cannot find a teaching job either.

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Terrence Donilon, a church spokesman, said the archdiocese has not seen the lawsuit and does not comment on pending litigation. But the church observes a zero-tolerance policy in efforts to protect children from sexual abuse; it requires following proper protocols without exception.

In general, Donilon said Thursday, the archdiocese expects “all mandated reporters to report suspected or potential child abuse to the appropriate authorities, as they have been trained to do.”

Phil Saviano, founder of the New England chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said he was “troubled that the janitor would on several occasions use the little boys’ room, especially since he supposedly goes though this mandated training for parochial schools regarding children and safety.”

When Kelly and her colleagues resigned in January, the archdiocese announced that the departing school officials had taken responsibility and stepped down for “their failure to report these incidents in a timely manner.”

But the lawsuit says that was not true: The archdiocese told Kelly she would be fired if she did not quit, even though she had done precisely what was required of her in such a situation.

According to the lawsuit, a parent telephoned Kelly on Dec. 17, 2014, to report that her second-grade son saw the janitor in a school bathroom and felt uncomfortable. Kelly immediately called the pastor, the Rev. George Szal, a member of the Marist order of priests.

“I’ll take care of it,” the pastor told Kelly, according to her lawsuit.

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But on Jan. 9, the same parent told Kelly the janitor had again come into the bathroom while her son was there. The mother said this was her third report. Unbeknownst to Kelly, the mother had raised the issue in a Dec. 10 conference with her son’s teacher.

Kelly and a priest immediately called Szal, who was traveling. The pastor said he would tell the janitor to leave the premises. Szal asked Kelly to call the archdiocese.

She complied, the lawsuit says, and filed a report, as church officials requested, with the state Department of Children and Families.

The next day, a Saturday, Szal told Kelly he was resigning at O’Malley’s request, according to the lawsuit.

Three days later, Kathleen Power Mears, the superintendent of Catholic schools, told Kelly to resign or she would be terminated, according to the lawsuit.

The Revere police and Suffolk prosecutors sent a joint statement the following week clearing the janitor of any criminal wrongdoing. No child had reported that the man had touched him or used sexual language, the authorities said.

But Donilon said at the time that even if the janitor hadn’t broken the law, his use of a bathroom with students present was “highly inappropriate and improper.”

Jeffrey R. Turco, a lawyer who sends four of his children to the school, said the bathroom in question had long been used by adults as well as students. He said what happened was no different from what happens at a Red Sox game — men and boys use the bathrooms at the same time.

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“I think the world of [Kelly],” he said. “The cardinal and Terrence Donilon should drive themselves up to her house and apologize personally. . . . That would be a first step to helping this woman rehabilitate herself.”

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Lisa Wangsness can be reached at lisa.wangsness@globe.com.