The grand Spanish Colonial Revival buildings of Madonna Manor and Hope Haven that stand on opposite sides of Barataria Boulevard in Marrero are largely vacant now, empty but still-imposing monuments of Catholicism in the New Orleans area.

For decades, they housed orphans and children from troubled families, all placed into the care of the church. But their ornate facades concealed a grotesque pattern of physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by priests, brothers and nuns.

While the scandal there cost the Archdiocese of New Orleans and other entities $5.2 million in 2009, Friday was the first time the archdiocese named alleged abusers there, along with dozens of priests and other clergy that church officials determined were credibly accused of the sexual abuse of minors.

At least 65 people have alleged that as children, they suffered abuse, including whipping, molestation or worse, while confined to the 10-acre campus of Hope Haven and Madonna Manor between the 1940s and 1970s.

One of them, 66-year-old Louis Cantero, still gets a chill whenever he drives past the complex.

“I didn’t realize how much damage that did to me until later in life,” he said.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond's list contains 57 "credibly accused" priests and clergy members. Of that number, eight served at Hope Haven, where they had easy access to some of the region’s most vulnerable children and teenagers.

The twin West Bank institutions were founded in the 1920s and 1930s by Monsignor Peter Wynhoven. Madonna Manor held younger children, while Hope Haven provided a home for older children and teens.

Although both homes are often referred to as orphanages, they also schooled children whose parents were deemed unable to raise them for reasons including mental and emotional instability.

The abuse there was hidden from public view until the 2000s, when children who spent time inside the facilities described beatings from nuns and sexual abuse, including rape, by priests, lay employees and volunteers in a barrage of lawsuits.

“The Catholic Church was trying to do a good thing, but unfortunately there were some sinister forces at work,” said Frank Lamothe, a plaintiff’s attorney involved in most of the civil suits. “Back at that time, nobody even knew what the word pedophilia meant. The sisters who ran that institution really weren’t trained or equipped to deal with that kind of thing.”

The institutions were staffed by nuns from the School Sisters of Notre Dame and priests and brothers who were members of the Salesians of Don Bosco, a Catholic religious order founded in Italy in the 19th century.

Salesians Paul Avallone, Stanislaus Ceglar, Paul Csik, Anthony Esposito, Joseph Pankowski, Ernest Fagione, August Kita and Alfred Sokol all were credibly accused of committing sexual abuse of minors, the archdiocese said.

Csik served as the superior at Hope Haven for a time in the 1950s and 1960s, according to news accounts. Avallone went on to found Archbishop Shaw High School in Marrero.

The list does not contain the names of any nuns, who were only accused of physical and emotional abuse, Lamothe said. Nor does it contain the names of lay employees and volunteers, who Lamothe said committed some of the worst sexual abuse.

Lamothe said that in a series of depositions, he and other attorneys uncovered clear evidence that high-ranking nuns at the complex were aware of some abuse. However, they were not able to establish how much farther up the church’s hierarchy that knowledge went.

Nor did the attorneys uncover evidence that children were passed between abusers, he said.

“You see that in some pedophilia rings,” he said. “I didn’t see that here. Each abuser was basically in there for themselves.”

He believes abusers gravitated to the homes for a simple and chilling reason: that’s where the children were.

Cantero, who did not recognize any names from the list released Friday, lived in Madonna Manor as an 8- and 9-year-old in the late 1950s, when his mother was undergoing emotional problems. He said he never talked about the sexual abuse he suffered.

“I thought I was the only one,” he said.

Also damaging for Cantero was the emotional abuse he suffered from nuns, he said. One told him his mother’s condition was his fault.

Many victims had similar experiences, Lamothe said. He remembered one child who told his deeply Catholic mother about the abuse, only to receive a slap to his face.

“It was a whole, completely different culture,” he said. “A devout Catholic couldn’t accept the idea of this to happen.”

The dam began to break in 2005 when the first lawsuits were filed. Lamothe said an initial group of 18 plaintiffs led to dozens more people coming forward.

At the time, Aymond declined to release a list of accused priests and brothers, saying that none of them continued to pose a danger to children.

Cantero said he underwent a grueling, 8½-hour deposition before he received a modest financial settlement. He couldn’t bring himself to shake the hands of the priests who tried to apologize to him at the end of the mediation process, he said.

“I’m still a Catholic. But I hate to say it, I’m not a practicing Catholic,” he said.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432