Brooklyn Diocese reaches sexual abuse settlement with Attorney General Letitia James

brooklyn diocese church
The Brooklyn Diocese and Attorney General Letitia James have reached a settlement regarding sexual abuse policies.
File photo courtesy of the Diocese of Brooklyn/X

A secular monitor will oversee the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn’s compliance with new and stronger sexual abuse policies as part of a settlement agreement with Attorney General Letitia James.

The agreement was announced Tuesday as a means to address what James’ office called “years of mismanaging clergy sexual abuse cases” and failure to adequately investigate and respond to accusations of sexual abuse. 

The Office of the Attorney General opened an investigation of all eight Catholic Dioceses in New York back in 2018. 

letitia james
The Office of the Attorney General started an investigation of all Catholic Dioceses in New York in 2018. File photo courtesy of Seth Wenig/AP

During that investigation, the OAG reportedly found that the Brooklyn Diocese — which oversees 211 churches and 84 schools across Brooklyn and Queens – was not adequately protecting children from sexual abuse, and was not complying with its own longstanding procedures for responding abuse allegations in the church. 

The Diocesan Review Board sometimes delayed its investigations, per the OAG, and held different cases to different standards of proof — allowing some clergy members to get off scot-free. 

“The Diocese knew about this pervasive problem, but it did not adequately address allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct,” James said in a statement. “Now, the Diocese has made a commitment to implementing holistic reforms that will ensure every report of sexual abuse or misconduct is handled quickly and transparently. 

According to the investigation, in the 1990s, the Diocese moved a problematic priest from parish to parish after receiving complaints about him, but never monitored his behavior or removed him from duty — even after a Catholic school principal said she saw him behaving inappropriately with young boys. 

The Diocesan Review Board launched an investigation of the priest in 2006, after a victim came forward, but concluded there was not enough evidence after reportedly applying a “heightened standard of proof” to the investigation.

Only in 2018, after two more victims came forward with their stories, did the DRB conclude that all three allegations — including the one that was initially dismissed — were credible. The priest was removed from duty, but the Diocese did not share details with his behavior and punishment until 2019, when it created a public database of credibly-accused clergy members. 

Under the new agreement, the diocese will create new offices and positions to strengthen and enforce sexual abuse prevention and response efforts. A new Clergy Monitor — someone with a background in law enforcement or counseling — will be appointed to monitor accused clergy members and “develop individualized prevention plans for each.”

Additionally, the Office of Protection of Children and Young Adults — which was created by the Diocese in 2021 – will continue to help coordinate efforts while supporting victims and providing recommendations to Bishop Robert Brennan.

The Diocese has also agreed to ease and accelerate the complaint and investigation process, per the DA’s office. Victims will be able to file complaints privately online or via phone, and should be protected from retaliation by a new whistleblower policy.  

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New policies require Bishop Robert Brennan to assess new complaints within 20 days. File photo by Adrian Childress

Under the new agreement, the Diocese must acknowledge all complaints within five business days, and the Bishop must determine whether or not a complaint is credible within 20 days. 

Credible complaints will be referred to the DRB for an investigation, which must be finished in nine months. 

When a clergy member is removed from duty, the Diocese must announce it via press release and share the news with the priest’s former parishes.

For at least three years, all of those efforts will be overseen by an independent and secular monitor, who must be approved by the OAG. The monitor will issue an annual public report evaluating the Diocese’s compliance with new policies. 

“New Yorkers deserve to trust their faith leaders, and my office will continue to support the Diocese’s efforts to rebuild that trust with their community,” James said. 

The AG acknowledged the Diocese’s cooperation with the investigation, and said the new agreement will not affect ongoing individual lawsuits against the body. 

In a statement released, the Brooklyn Diocese noted that, per the agreement, the OAG felt the Diocese had made “significant” efforts to address sexual abuse in the Diocese between 2003 and 2024. 

In 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops passed the The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People — also known as the Dallas Charter — and established the National Review Board, which monitors sexual abuse in Catholic Dioceses across the country.  

After the charter was passed, the Brooklyn Diocese received more than 100 sexual abuse allegations — many of which were years old, according to the Diocese. In 2003, then-Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio established an independent reporting hotline and the Diocesan Review Board. 

Between 2003 and 2021, a total of 27 priests were removed from duty as a result of DRB investigations. Two more — including Rev. Peter Mahoney — have been removed since 2021. 

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Former Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio was accused of sexual abuse, but was cleared by an internal investigation. File photo courtesy of Steve Ruark/AP

DiMarzio himself was accused of sexual abuse in 2019, but was cleared in 2021 by an internal investigation headed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York. He resigned and was replaced by Brennan weeks after the investigation was finished. 

Between the end of 2019 and early 2020, nearly 600 Child Victims Act lawsuits were filed against the Brooklyn Diocese.

“This agreement concludes a difficult period in the life of the church. While the Church should have been a sanctuary, I am deeply sorry that it was a place of trauma for the victims of clergy sexual abuse,” Brennan said in a statement. “I pray God’s healing power will sustain them. Today, we move forward with the strongest policies in place for the protection of children and adults.”