Four men, who were sexually abused as children, have reached a $27.5 million settlement with a New York diocese and the Dorothy Bennett Mercy Center, a local after-school program, The New York Times reported.
The settlement with the Diocese of Brooklyn is one of the largest ever awarded to sexual abuse victims within the Catholic Church, according to the website BishopAccountability.org.
The boys, who were between ages 8 and 12 at the time, suffered repeated abuse at the hands of Angelo Serrano, a religious teacher at St. Lucy’s-St. Patrick’s Church in Brooklyn. The settlement comes amid the civil investigation launched by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood into the handling of sexual abuse cases of all eight Roman Catholic dioceses in the state.
“These were boys who were abused in second grade through sixth grade, for years for some of them,” Ben Rubinowitz, one of the lawyers who represented the victims, told The Times. “The egregious nature of the conduct is the reason that the church paid what they did.”
Each of the men, who are now between ages 19 and 21, will be awarded $6,875,000, according to their lawyers.
Serrano, now 67, lived in an apartment behind the Roman Catholic Church where he taught catechism classes and helped organize religious programs.
The victims' attorneys said the abuse occurred in Serrano's apartment and at the Dorothy Bennett Mercy Center, which was affiliated with the church.
In 2009, Serrano was arrested after one of the victims told his mother about the abuse.
He pleaded guilty to criminal charges of first-degree sexual misconduct in 2011. Serrano is currently serving a 15-year sentence in the Fishkill Correctional Facility in New York.
The victims later filed lawsuits seeking damages from the diocese.
Did church leaders know about the abuse?
The Rev. Stephen P. Lynch and the Rev. Frank Shannon were named as co-defendants in the lawsuits. Both worked at the church during the years the abuse occurred.
The church filed a motion for a summary judgment. It claimed that Serrano was not a diocesan employee and that it was not legally responsible for the abuse that occurred in his apartment.
Last year, Justice Loren Baily-Schiffman of Kings County Supreme Court dismissed the church's motion.
“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,” Baily-Schiffman wrote in her order, The Times reported. “In fact, both Lynch and Shannon testified that they visited Serrano on numerous occasions when young boys were present.”
The church kept no records of Serrano's employment, but the victims' lawyers' said he received a stipend from the church. He also had a desk at the church.
The case was set for trial when the diocese decided to settle.
What did the Diocese say?
The Diocese of Brooklyn released a statement on Tuesday that emphasized that Serrano was not an employee of the diocese or parish.
“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,” the statement said. “Mr. Serrano was a volunteer worker at a local parish; he was not clergy or an employee of the diocese or parish.”
It went on to add that "another defendant" would be paying “a significant portion of the settlement" for three of the victims.
A spokeswoman for the diocese told The Times that the Dorothy Bennett Mercy Center had agreed to pay about one-third of the total settlement.