After threats of boycotts and other protests from angry victims of sexual abuse, St. George’s School is altering its plans to hold a “Hope for Healing” session on its Rhode Island campus during an alumni reunion weekend next month.
On Wednesday, headmaster Eric Peterson wrote to alumni about a gathering to “address this deeply troubling and painful chapter in our school’s history.” The session was to be held in the chapel of the Episcopal prep school, during Alumni Weekend, scheduled for May 6-8.
But late Friday afternoon, board chairwoman Leslie Heaney sent out a second letter to alumni, stating that the initial letter about the proposed “Hope for Healing” session had “upset many survivors.”
“With the investigation into sexual abuse at St. George’s still ongoing, survivors and Day One have expressed their feelings that it is premature to talk about healing,” Heaney wrote.
Day One is a Rhode Island nonprofit that deals with sexual assault.
St. George’s now plans to provide alumni with an update on the investigation into the sex abuse scandal and will have “a gathering to acknowledge the terrible and irreparable harm that occurred to some of our alumni,” the letter stated. “We now plan to do that in consultation with Day One and a broad group of survivors.”
One former student welcomed the change in plans.
“Until the truth is known and the school has taken appropriate steps in response, it is too soon to talk about hope and healing, and Mr. Peterson is in no position to do the talking,” said Anne Scott, who was allegedly raped by athletic trainer Al Gibbs in the late 1970s.
Peterson could not be reached for comment. Peterson, who took over as headmaster in 2004, has been criticized by survivors for his handling of abuse complaints.
Since December, when three victims went public with their story, the elite school in Middletown, R.I., has been embroiled in a sex abuse scandal dating back to the 1960s. St. George’s own investigation last year found that 26 students were abused by six staffers. But more than 40 alleged victims have consulted with attorneys Eric MacLeish and Carmen Durso, who are representing some of them.
Former students and an official with the Day One group had called Peterson’s planned session ill-timed and insensitive. “We were appalled,” said Peg Langhammer, executive director of Day One, which is providing help for St. George’s victims.
The issue, she and others say, is twofold: the headmaster, and the healing. “It’s way too early to talk about healing; there’s still so much going on,” Langhammer said, noting that investigator Martin Murphy’s report is not yet complete.
And Peterson should not be the one to set up a healing session, she said: “To many people, he’s such a lightning rod on so many issues.’’
Bella English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.