New York City, USA : The Brooklyn diocese on Tuesday agreed to pay $27.5 million to settle a case in which four male juveniles accused a religion teacher at the church of s****l abuse.
It is one of the largest settlements the Catholic Church has paid out of dozens of child s** abuse lawsuits involving hundreds of victims dating back to 1984.
The settlement will be split evenly among the victims, who will each receive $6,875,000.
The victims, who are now between the ages of 19 and 21, have requested that their identities be withheld.
“This is an extremely large settlement, and the size of the settlement has to be an indication of the severity of the abuse, and also of the pressure that the Catholic Church is under,” said Terry McKiernan, co-director and president of Bishop Accountability.
The victims were repeatedly abused by Angelo Serrano, 67, who taught catechism classes and helped organize the religious education programs at St. Lucy’s-St. Patrick’s Church, in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. The abuse occurred inside the church, in Mr. Serrano’s apartment located in an old schoolhouse behind the church and at an affiliated after-school program, lawyers for the victims said.
Angelo Serrano was a religion teacher at the now-closed St. Lucy-St. Patrick Catholic Church in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn between 2003 and 2009, when he was first arrested for s******y abusing a child.
Since that arrest, other victims between the ages of 8 and 12 came forward and Serrano pleaded guilty to three counts of s****l misconduct with a child in 2011 and is serving a 15-year sentence.
Attorneys for the four victims in Tuesday’s settlement said the church “knew or certainly should have known that Serrano was s******y abusing children.”
One priest testified to seeing Serrano kiss an 8- or 9-year-old boy on the mouth but did not report the incident. Other church workers saw Serrano set children on his lap and give them gifts in violation of church policy. And at least one victim said he is one of several children Serrano brought to his apartment and s******y abused.
A church secretary, Beatrice Ponnelle, who shared an office with Mr. Serrano, also testified about questionable behavior. She said that although the church had a rule that children were not allowed to be left alone in the office with a staff member, boys as young as 7 or 8 would come into the office to do their homework while sitting on Mr. Serrano’s lap. When she left for the day, he would be the only adult in the office with the boys, Justice Baily-Schiffman wrote.
Despite Mr. Serrano’s position as a religious educator — with Mr. Serrano at the church nearly every day between 1997 and 2009, volunteering at the summer camp, and getting keys to the church and rectory — no records were kept regarding him or his employment history at the church, the judge wrote.
With the case set for trial, the Diocese of Brooklyn agreed to settle. But in a statement released on Tuesday, the diocese still seemed to minimize its role in allowing the abuse.
“The diocese and another defendant have settled these lawsuits brought by the four claimants who were s*******y abused by Angelo Serrano at his private apartment many years ago,” the statement said. “Mr. Serrano was a volunteer worker at a local parish; he was not clergy or an employee of the diocese or parish.” It also described the victims as adolescents, rather than children.
The statement added that for three of the claimants, “another defendant” would be contributing “a significant portion of the settlement.” Lawyers for the victims said that an affiliated after-school program, whose name was to be kept confidential as a condition of the settlement, was paying a small part of the award.
A spokeswoman for the diocese did not address whether Revs. Shannon and Lynch were punished for failing to report signs of abuse.
One of the boys reported the abuse to his mother, who contacted the police. Mr. Serrano was arrested in September 2009, and pleaded guilty two years later to first-degree s****l conduct charges; he is serving a 15-year sentence at the Fishkill Correctional Facility.
Seeking punitive damages from the diocese, two of the victims filed a lawsuit in 2013, and the other two victims later brought lawsuits as well. The pastors at the church during the time the abuse occurred, the Rev. Stephen P. Lynch and the Rev. Frank Shannon, were named as co-defendants.
In fighting the idea that they should be held responsible for the abuse, the Diocese of Brooklyn argued that Mr. Serrano was a church volunteer, not a diocesan employee. The diocese also disputed that the abuse took place on church grounds, arguing that abuse in Mr. Serrano’s apartment was not its legal responsibility.
But lawyers for the victims pointed out that Mr. Serrano received a stipend from the church and had a desk on church property.
A Brooklyn judge sided with the victims, finding that clear warning signs that Mr. Serrano was abusing the children were ignored by parish workers and priests and not reported.
“The record is clear that Lynch and Shannon had knowledge that for years Serrano often had several boys, including plaintiff, sleep over at his apartment,” Justice Loren Baily-Schiffman of Kings County Supreme Court wrote in her 2017 order dismissing the church’s motion for summary judgment of the case. “In fact, both Lynch and Shannon testified that they visited Serrano on numerous occasions when young boys were present.”
The settlement comes amid a flurry of investigations — including a New York State civil investigation — and disclosures of s** abuse within the Catholic Church that have led to mounting pressure on Pope Francis to take action against bishops and cardinals for their role in the abuse crisis.
The settlement comes at a time when the Catholic Church is again under scrutiny for covering up child s** abuse committed by its clergy members.
Last month, a Pennsylvania grand jury found evidence of widespread s****l abuse of children in the state’s Catholic churches dating back to 1947.
That was followed by the New York Attorney General’s Office issuing subpoenas to the state’s archdiocese and all seven dioceses.
“These were boys who were abused in second grade through sixth grade, for years for some of them,” said Ben Rubinowitz, another lawyer for the victims. “The egregious nature of the conduct is the reason that the church paid what they did.”
The Brooklyn diocese, which includes Queens, is already in the process of settling hundreds of older abuse cases where the victims can no longer sue because of the statute of limitations.
Like many dioceses, the Brooklyn diocese has confronted waves of parish mergers and closures as the number of parishioners has shrunk. St. Lucy’s-St. Patrick’s parish was itself the result of a merger of parishes in the 1970s because of dwindling attendance. In 2010, the diocese announced that the church would be shuttered in another wave of parish closings.
Since June 2017, 474 victims in Brooklyn have applied for settlements through the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program; 374 of those cases have so far been settled, the program said. In all, six dioceses in the state are running similar programs. The Brooklyn diocese took out a loan to pay for the millions required to cover those settlements, which generally amount to less than $500,000 each.
The settlement to the four victims comes after an extraordinary grand jury report in Pennsylvania detailing the abuse of more than 1,000 children by hundreds of priests over decades.