Brooklyn Diocese Reaches $27.5 Million Settlement In Sex Abuse Case
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The Diocese of Brooklyn in New York has agreed to pay $27 1/2 million in a sex abuse settlement. It involves a teacher at a Catholic school who abused four boys. It's one of the largest settlements in a church abuse case. From member station WNYC, Mara Silvers reports.
MARA SILVERS, BYLINE: According to the settlement, from 2002 to 2009, religion teacher Angelo Serrano assaulted four boys ages 8 through 12 in church offices and his apartment. Victim's attorney Ben Rubinowitz says the assaults, including rape, took place within the community of St. Lucy-St. Patrick's Church.
BEN RUBINOWITZ: The parents of these children entrusted a religious instructor to take care of their children. They couldn't have imagined in their worst nightmare that this religious instructor would abuse his position and so badly injure these children.
SILVERS: Serrano was arrested in 2009 and later sentenced to 15 years in prison for sexual assault, a term he continues to serve. The Brooklyn Diocese has issued a statement saying Serrano was a volunteer, not an employee, and that the diocese hopes this is another step forward in the healing process for the four men.
But in part, the diocese was found at fault last year when a judge ruled that two priests failed to report Serrano's actions. Although they were never found guilty of wrongdoing, those two priests, Frank Shannon and Stephen Lynch, did not follow up on what the judge called any of the warning signs of abuse. The priests are no longer at St. Lucy's-St. Patrick's Church, but are working at other parishes in Brooklyn.
This abuse during the early 2000s took place at a time when the church was launching abuse prevention training and teaching church workers to identify signs of sexual misconduct. Ben Rabinowitz says that training clearly wasn't enough.
RUBINOWITZ: Adults were trained to recognize the signs of sexual abuse. The problem is the entire system breaks down when the signs are recognized and then ignored.
SILVERS: Some child advocates also say the training is insufficient and that the church should do a better job of screening teachers and volunteers. Shaun Dougherty with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests says the failures of the diocese are part of a larger, systemic problem within the church.
SHAUN DOUGHERTY: This mandating, you know, training - I can't believe we've come to a society that we have to train people not to molest children.
SILVERS: The historic settlement comes after a grand jury in Pennsylvania released its report on widespread abuse and cover-ups last month. The New York attorney general's office has also launched an investigation into potential cover-ups. The AG's office is now working with state district attorneys to convene grand juries to investigate victim claims. For NPR News, I'm Mara Silvers in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.