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OPINION: After $27.5M settlement, what comes next for Brooklyn and Queens Catholics?

September 19, 2018 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

The nightmare of sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church has come home to Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens. On Tuesday, it was announced that the Diocese of Brooklyn had reached a $27.5 million settlement with four men who were repeatedly abused by Angelo Serrano, a layman who taught catechism classes at St. Lucy’s-St. Patrick’s Church in Clinton Hill.  

This is one of the largest settlements ever awarded to victims of abuse within the church.

While we have not the slightest pity for Serrano, 67, who is serving a 15-year sentence at Fishkill Correctional Facility for sexual misconduct, for the priests accused in other acts of sexual abuse , or for the bishops and cardinals who covered up this abuse for decades, we have compassion for the thousands of devout Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens who have watched as their church is dragged through the sex-abuse mud.

Sadly, it is money that they put in the collection basket each Sunday that will pay for this settlement. We hope that the money will help in the healing process for the men who were young boys between the ages of 8 and 12 when they were abused by this monster. But we suspect they are scarred for life.

This settlement is the tip of a very ugly iceberg. Just last week, the New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood issued subpoenas to all Catholic dioceses in the state as part of a civil investigation into allegations that the church covered up the sexual abuse of children.

There was a time not long ago when such an investigation was unthinkable.

This Diocese of Brooklyn settlement was announced just weeks after the release of a sickening grand jury report in Pennsylvania that described the abuse of more than 1,000 children by hundreds of priests over decades.

To be accurate, Serrano was a volunteer Catechism teacher and no priests are accused of taking part in the sexual abuse. However, two men who were parish priests when the abuse occurred, Rev. Stephen Lynch and Rev. Frank Shannon, were named as co-defendants.

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The church initially asked for a summary judgement dismissing the civil case on the grounds that the abuse took place in Serrano’s home, not on church property. But Kings County Supreme Court Justice Loren Baily-Schiffman wrote the following in her 2017 order dismissing the church’s motion:

“The record is clear that Lynch and Shannon had knowledge that for years Serrano often had several boys, including the plaintiffs, sleep over at his apartment. In fact, both Lynch and Shannon testified that they visited Serrano on numerous occasions when young boys were present.”

The Brooklyn Diocese knew what these priests had observed, and as late as 2017, its lawyers were still trying to avoid taking responsibility for what happened to these boys.

On Tuesday, the Diocese of Brooklyn issued the following statement: “The diocese and another defendant have settled these lawsuits brought by the four claimants who were sexually abused by Angelo Serrano at his private apartment many years ago. Mr. Serrano was a volunteer worker at a local parish; he was not clergy or an employee of the diocese or parish.”

Why then, did the diocese agree to this mammoth settlement? The statement is pathetic and shows an unwillingness to take responsibility. How will this settlement be paid? Will the diocese close more schools?

In New York and in other states, the statute of limitations makes it impossible to criminally prosecute those involved in some of the abuse. That’s a shame.

The pressure is on Pope Francis to clean house. Every cardinal, bishop, monsignor and pastor in America who knew about and helped cover up this abuse should be dismissed.

For our readers in Brooklyn and Queens for whom Catholicism has been a source of inspiration throughout their lives, we believe your church will survive this painful scandal and emerge a better institution.

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