In one of the biggest settlement agreements reached in New York for survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn has agreed to pay $27.5 million to four persons who alleged they had been abused as children by a volunteer at the St. Lucy-St. Patrick’s church in Brooklyn, the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the case said Tuesday.
Under the settlement agreement, which resolves a case filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court in 2013, each of the four accusers would receive more than $6.8 million each. That figure would be in the upper echelons for individual awards to survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that have been made public, according to databases and other sources familiar with the litigation.
“While nothing can undo the terrible abuse and harm inflicted on these boys this settlement is a way of ensuring they get the help they need not just now but for the rest of their lives,” said Ben Rubinowitz, a managing attorney at Gair, Gair, Conason, Rubinowitz, Bloom, Hershenhorn, Steigman & Mackauf who represented the accusers.
Gair, Gair, Conason attorney Peter Saghir also appeared on behalf of the accusers.
The diocese was represented by Shaub, Ahmuty, Citrin & Spratt.
Calls left with defense counsel were not immediately returned.
The settlement comes as the tally for payouts by the Catholic Church in sex abuse cases has grown to $3 billion and 19 dioceses and religious orders have filed for bankruptcy protection because of sexual abuse scandals involving clergy, according to a database maintained on the bishop-accountability.org website.
It also comes about a month after a Pennsylvania grand jury released a bombshell report alleging that 300 members of clergy abused more than 1,000 victims over a period of decades; in recent weeks, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced that her office would launch a civil investigation into sexual abuse cases in the state’s dioceses.
Before the settlement in the Brooklyn case was made public on Tuesday, the largest publicly disclosed payout to survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church was a $11.45 million jury award against the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island on behalf of two victims.
According to a news release from the attorneys representing the four survivors in the Brooklyn case, between 2003 and 2009, Angelo Serrano, a volunteer and director of religious studies at St. Lucy-St. Patrick’s, allegedly abused the plaintiffs when they were between the ages of 8 and 12 years old.
Court papers said Serrano fondled children in church offices and in an apartment building, where Serrano lived, near the church. Saghir said in the news release that priests supervising Serrano ignored numerous warning signs that abuse may be taking place; one priest testified that, in one instance, he saw Serrano kiss a boy as young as 8 years old on the mouth and embrace him inappropriately, but did not report the behavior.
“Since the sex abuse scandal in Boston was exposed in 2002 the Catholic Church has sought to institute policies to protect children from sexual abuse but it clearly has not done enough to ensure its own policies are being followed,” Saghir said. “Children are still being hurt.”
In 2009, according to court papers and media reports, Serrano was arrested for molesting a 10-year-old boy, and police said at the time that they were investigating up to 17 other abuse cases involving Serrano.
In 2011, Serrano was convicted of sexual abuse and received a 15-year prison sentence, court papers state.
Two years later, a boy who alleged that he was the victim of abuse at the hands of Serrano filed suit against the Brooklyn diocese, the church and two priests alleging negligent hiring, training, retention and supervision.
In a 2017 ruling to partially deny summary judgment for the defendants to dismiss the claims, Acting Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Loren Baily-Schiffman said that Serrano was held out as a “respected church authority,” even after church staff witnessed him commit inappropriate acts.
“The record in this case is replete with evidence of Serrano’s inappropriate behavior with sexual implications that continued for years even after he was told to stop,” the judge found.
Following the announcement of the settlement, the diocese issued a written statement noting that another defendant, a local after-school program, contributed a portion of the settlement monies and that Serrano was not an employee of the diocese.
The diocese also “highly contested” its role in the sexual abuse of the four survivors, the statement reads.
“We hope this is another step forward in the healing process for these claimants,” the statement reads. “The diocese remains committed to ensuring that its parishes, schools and youth programs remain safe and secure for the young people who are entrusted to our care.”