Four men raped by a former catechism instructor at a Clinton Hill Catholic church each received the largest sum ever doled out by the religious institution when its Brooklyn Diocese awarded them equal parts of a combined $27.5-million settlement on Tuesday, according to their lawyers, who called the incidents “every parent’s nightmare.”
“The type of abuse your talking about is the worst imaginable,” said attorney Ben Rubinowitz, whose clients have asked to remain anonymous.
Tutor Angelo Serrano, 67, taught the victims, who are now in their late teens and early 20s, in an after-school program at St. Lucy-St. Patrick Church on Willoughby Avenue between Taaffe Place and Kent Avenue back when they were between 8- and 12-years-old, while living in a Kent Avenue apartment building adjacent to the parish.
And in his trusted position as the boys’ faith counsellor, Serrano routinely abused them between 2003 and 2009, committing numerous acts of oral and anal sodomy that inflicted enduring psychological trauma that has lasted well into the victims’ adulthood, according to the lawyer, who said one of his clients sought treatment for a nervous breakdown last year.
Parish priests and lay staff ignored signs of Serrano’s inappropriate behavior with his pupils, despite their mandatory training as part of a program designed to help them identify signs of pedophilia, which the Catholic Church instituted following the Boston Globe’s bombshell 2002 reports on similar abuse within the Boston Diocese, according to another of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
“One of the most horrible parts of this is the willful ignorance of priests and the staff at this church, who ignored blatant signs of abuse,” said Peter Saghir.
Police arrested Serrano in 2009 after one of the victims reported the abuse to his mother, and he is currently serving a 15-year sentence following his 2011 guilty plea for assaulting the four boys, in addition to others.
Two the four claimants in the settlement filed a civil suit against the Brooklyn Diocese in 2011, with the other two filing separate lawsuits in 2013 and 2014, testimony from which revealed that St. Lucy-St. Patrick priest Rev. Stephen Lynch, who took over the parish in 2005, saw Serrano kissing a student on the mouth, and that his predecessor, Rev. Frank Shannon, knew that the teacher for years hosted overnight stays at his apartment until cops cuffed him, according to court documents.
A parish secretary further testified spotting children as young as 7-years-old doing homework while sitting on Serrano’s lap in his church office — despite rules prohibiting children from being alone with staff — and said that the instructor was often the left alone with kids in the office at the end of the day, the documents show.
In 2013, the Brooklyn Diocese attempted to dismiss the suits, but Supreme Court Justice Loren Baily-Schiffman ruled against the motion. The diocese did not immediately return messages left seeking comment, but in a statement to the New York Times, which first reported on the settlement, its leaders downplayed the institution’s responsibility in Serrano’s rapes by emphasizing his position as a lay volunteer.
“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.”
News of the settlement came weeks after Acting New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood subpoenaed each of the state’s eight dioceses as part of an investigation into the Roman Catholic Church and its leaders’ protection of abusers within the institution.
As part of her investigation, Underwood set up a confidential phone line, (800) 771–7755, and website where victims can report abuse.