NEW ORLEANS — A former principal of De La Salle High and a subordinate are accused of sexually molesting one of the Uptown school’s students in the 1980s, according to a new lawsuit filed last month.
While the Aug. 7 lawsuit appears to mark the first time ex-principal Richard Langenstein and Robert Gandara face public abuse accusations stemming from their service at the 71-year-old school on St. Charles Avenue, each has previously pleaded no contest to charges of child molestation for unrelated conduct in St. Tammany Parish.
Neither Gandara nor Langenstein, who died in 2003, were clergymen, so they are not on the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ list of more than 60 priests and deacons who are considered credibly accused of child sexual abuse. The archdiocese also does not run De La Salle, which is operated by the Catholic Christian Brothers order’s regional chapter.
During their time at De La Salle, Langenstein and Gandara were religious brothers, who live similarly to priests and deacons but are not ordained.
Officials with the regional chapter of the Christian Brothers have not published a list of credibly accused members similar to that of the archdiocese and other religious orders.
In a statement Monday, De La Salle President Paul Kelly said he could not comment on a pending lawsuit but noted that its allegations date back nearly four decades.
"The safety and well-being of the young people we serve is of paramount importance to us," Kelly said, adding that De La Salle immediately notified the Christian Brothers upon learning of the suit's claims. "We are committed to … a safe environment for all members of our school."
The plaintiff, who attended De La Salle from 1981 to 1985, says he was about 15 the first time Langenstein abused him in the principal’s office. The boy — whose name is not listed in court papers — had gone to Langenstein’s office for a tardy slip, and the principal fondled his genitals after making him undress, said the lawsuit, prepared by attorneys Desiree Charbonnet and Bernard “Bunny” Chabonnet.
From there, over the next two years, both Langenstein and Gandara fondled the boy’s genitals and committed other acts of abuse, both at De La Salle and away from the campus during school-sponsored events, the lawsuit contends.
The other abusive acts are mostly unspecified, though the lawsuit singles out one instance in which Gandara allegedly tried to perform oral sex on the plaintiff during a school trip to Europe while the boy slept.
The lawsuit says the plaintiff’s mother caught Langenstein fondling the boy during a pool party at the teen’s house, leading her to kick the principal out of their home. But the boy said Langenstein bought his silence by showering him with fancy dinners, tickets for box seats at various sports events, and other lavish gifts.
It is not clear if the plaintiff’s mother ever reported what she purportedly saw.
The plaintiff demands compensation for psychological anguish he says he suffered at the hands of Langenstein and Gandara. He argues the trauma caused him to suppress his memories of the abuse until therapy helped him unlock them, and therefore statutes of limitation that prevent people from recovering damages should not apply.
Named defendants include Langenstein’s estate, Gandara, De La Salle, and the order that runs the school. Neither Gandara nor representatives of Langenstein’s estate could immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Another listed defendant is the archdiocesan nonprofit Catholic Charities, though that organization is not involved in De La Salle’s operations. Catholic Charities has since moved to transfer its portion of the case to New Orleans’ federal bankruptcy court.
That’s where the archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 reorganization on May 1, citing financial struggles amid the church’s ongoing abuse scandal as well as the coronavirus pandemic. The bankruptcy case remains pending.
Langenstein was president of De La Salle from 1976 to 1984, when he left to become the director of alumni affairs at Christian Brothers’ College of Santa Fe, New Mexico. He also spent some time at St. Paul’s School in Covington before retiring from the Christian Brothers order in 1990.
About 10 years after his retirement, he pleaded no contest in St. Tammany Parish state court to a charge of indecent behavior with a juvenile. He received five years of probation at the end of the case, in which he was accused of sexually abusing a 15-year-old Covington High School student.
Langenstein had volunteered to substitute teach at Covington High in 1995 and 1996, explaining to a newspaper before his arrest that the students there made him feel “rejuvenated.” He died in 2003 at age 68.
For his part, in 1990, Gandara pleaded no contest to sexually molesting a 16-year-old student at St. Paul’s, where the religious brother was a counselor. He received an 18-month prison sentence, serving at least half of it while also being ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment, according to various media reports.
The website bishop-accountability.org, which tracks church abuse cases, says Gandara left the Christian Brothers order in 1994.