Four men who were sexually abused as children by a former religious teacher at a Roman Catholic church reached a $27.5 million settlement with the Diocese of Brooklyn, the latest update in a wide-reaching scandal that has shaken houses of prayer across the nation.
The deal reached on Sept. 18 is broadly believed to be one of the largest individual settlement cases ever in relation to minors abused within the Catholic Church. Each one of the four victims will receive a historic $6.875 million.
According to court documents, Angelo Serrano, 67, repeatedly abused the four victims during his time teaching at the St. Lucy-St. Patrick’s Church in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Serrano was arrested in 2009 for sexually abusing one of the victims, then aged 10. In 2011, he pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual conduct charges and currently is serving a 15-year sentence.
“These were boys who were abused in second grade through sixth grade, for years for some of them,” said Ben Rubinowitz, one of the lawyers for the victims. “The egregious nature of the conduct is the reason that the church paid what they did.”
Adriana Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn diocese, confirmed with The Epoch Times that the settlement had been reached, adding that they had “highly contested” the diocese’s role in the abuse case, claiming that Serrano was a “volunteer worker at a local parish; he was not clergy or an employee of the Diocese or parish.”
Rodriguez said the diocese had already settled the lawsuits brought by the four claimants “many years ago” at Serrano’s private apartment.
“The Diocese endeavored to reach this settlement in a way that compensates Mr. Serrano’s victims and respects their privacy,” Rodriguez said via email on Sept. 19. “We hope this is another step forward in the healing process for these claimants.”
At the time, the pastors at the church–Rev. Stephen P. Lynch and Rev. Frank Shannon—both witnessed the inappropriate abuse but failed to stop it, according to court documents. Later a Brooklyn Judge ruled in favor of the victims, citing the church officials complicity.
“The record is clear that Lynch and Shannon had knowledge that, for years, Serrano often had several boys, including plaintiff, sleepover at his apartment,” Justice Loren Baily-Schiffman of Kings County Supreme Court wrote in a 2017 order, according to the New York Times. “In fact, both Lynch and Shannon testified that they visited Serrano on numerous occasions when young boys were present.”
The largest individual settlement reached previously in relation to abuse in the Catholic Church was in 2007, when two victims of a lay music minister in the Rockville Centre diocese took in about $5.73 million each. The settlement totaled $11.45 million, according to BishopAccountability.org, a database tracker of clergy sexual abuse cases.
As of June 2017, a total of 414 victims had applied for settlements through the independent Reconciliation Compensation Program in Brooklyn, according to the Associated Press. The program allows survivors of sexual abuse by priests or deacons of the diocese to seek financial compensation.
Weeks ago, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood subpoenaed all eight of the state’s Catholic dioceses—including the Brooklyn diocese—for documents of sex-abuse allegations as part of a wide-reaching investigation into the abuse.
Underwood wrote in a statement announcing the investigation that “victims in New York deserve to be heard as well—and we are going to do everything in our power to bring them the justice they deserve.”
In a Sept. 6 statement, the Brooklyn diocese said they had received the subpoena and is “in the process of reviewing it.”
At least seven states across the country have started investigating such claims, or have laid the groundwork for similar inquiries, spurred on in part by Pennsylvania’s horrific grand jury report released publicly in August.
The jury report accused over 300 “predator priests” in Pennsylvania of sexual abuse and identified more than 1,000 child victims.
The report detailed how church administrators “dissuaded” victims from reporting the abuse to authorities, while also pressuring police to terminate any investigations. Church officials would also conduct their own biased investigations without reporting the crimes to proper authorities.
The Boston Globe first sparked scrutiny into clerical sexual abuse in 2002 when they wrote 600 stories exposing the church’s coverup, chronicled in the award-winning movie “Spotlight.” The paper’s reporting made national headlines at the time, which led to some church officials resigning.
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