St. Lucy’s-St. Patrick’s Church in Brooklyn (Google Maps)
The Diocese of Brooklyn has reached a $27.5 million settlement with four men who were repeatedly abused by a religious teacher at a Roman Catholic church in Clinton Hill, the diocese said Tuesday.
The boys were sexually abused multiple times by 67-year-old Angelo Serrano, the former director of religious education at St. Lucy – St. Patrick Catholic Church. The abuse occurred between 2003 and 2009, when the boys were between the ages of 8 and 12, lawyers said, and involved anal and oral sodomy.
The pastors at the church during that time were Rev. Stephen P. Lynch and the Rev. Frank Shannon. According to court documents, both of them witnessed Serrano acting inappropriately toward young children, but did nothing to intervene.
Each of the four victims will receive $6.87 million, in what’s widely believed to be the largest individual settlement ever awarded to minors who were abused by figures within the Roman Catholic Church.
The Diocese of Brooklyn has sought to distance itself from Serrano in the wake of the historic settlement. In a statement sent out Tuesday night, diocese spokesperson Adriana Rodriguez called Serrano a “volunteer” who was “not clergy or an employee of the Diocese or parish,” and claimed that the boys were “sexually abused by Angelo Serrano at his private apartment.”
According to court documents, however, the abuse occurred inside the church, during an after-school program run by the church, and inside Serrano’s apartment, which was in a former church schoolhouse just across the courtyard from the church.
“Serrano had a desk in the church office and he was a CCD teacher, and he was held out by the church as a person in a position of authority,” Peter Saghir, one of the attorneys for the four boys, told Gothamist. “This is a church that’s served largely underprivileged, immigrant children of families from Latin America. Serrano spoke Spanish and was generally offered as a point person.”
“The way he was held up by the church as a trustworthy person is what allowed these families and this person to trust this man,” Saghir added.
The abuse began in the years following the sexual-abuse scandal in Boston in 2002, when the church was purportedly implementing mandatory trainings for all clergy members to better protect children. But instead of actual reform, church leaders “willfully ignored glaring signs of danger,” the attorney said. In one instance, Father Lynch witnessed Serrano kiss a young boy on the mouth inside the church, but never made any effort to tell Serrano or anyone else that the conduct was inappropriate, according to his deposition.
“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,” wrote Justice Loren Baily-Schiffman in 2017, in response to the church’s motion to dismiss the case. “In fact, both Lynch and Shannon testified that they visited Serrano on numerous occasions when young boys were present.”
The spokesperson for the Diocese in Brooklyn did not respond to a question about whether Lynch or Shannon would be disciplined for the negligence.
Earlier this month, the New York Attorney General’s office launched an investigation into the state’s eight Catholic dioceses, demanding they turn over “secret or confidential church archives” in order to determine whether or not they helped hide sexual abuse. The investigation is one of several similar inquiries launched across the country following an explosive Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing the abuse of more than 1,000 children by 300 priests.
But as the Catholic Church has faced renewed scrutiny for its handling of abuse allegations, some local advocates are accusing the Archdiocese of New York of refusing to adequately address the ongoing scandal. Felix Cepeda, an advocate for immigration rights and church reform, told Gothamist that he is calling on the archdiocese to make information about clergy sexual abuse allegations public, as the Diocese of San Diego did just last week.
“The Archdiocese should also announce that it will stop lobbying against the [Child Victim’s Act] in New York,” Cepeda told Gothamist, referring to the church’s reported efforts to block a law that would reform the state’s highly restrictive statute of limitations on sex abuse crimes. “The church should not be forced to do this by the government. It should support the survivors, not be fighting them on this.”
The Archdiocese of New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Victims and anyone with information about abuse can call the hotline at 1-800-771-7755 or file a complaint online at ag.ny.gov/ClergyAbuse.