Child sex abuse lawsuits pile up in Brooklyn following passage of new law targeting predators

Child sex abuse lawsuits pile up in Brooklyn following passage of new law targeting predators
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Eighty-seven victims of childhood sexual abuse filed lawsuits in Brooklyn Supreme Court within the first month following the enactment of the Child Victims Act, a new law that gives abuse survivors a renewed chance to seek justice against predators and the organizations that aided their assaults.

Last week, 10 victims — using pseudonyms to shield their identities — filed separate lawsuits against the Catholic Church’s Brooklyn Diocese and multiple Brooklyn-based clergymen, claiming they were abused between 1950 and 1980.

One victim accused now-deceased Father Patrick Fursey O’Toole of sexually abusing him at St. Ann’s Church in Dumbo, which has since been demolished, when the plaintiff worked at an Altar boy between the ages of nine and 18, according to court documents.

The new allegations against O’Toole are the first ones leveled against the priest, according to Diocese spokeswoman Adriana Rodriguez, who declined to speak further on the specifics of that case because of the ongoing litigations.

Another victim claims that he was abused in 1962 by Brother Julio Ortiz when he was an 11-year-old student at the now-defunct Saint Peter’s-Our Lady of Pilar Church in Cobble Hill in 1976, according to court documents.

The accusers, who are identified in court documents as ‘John Doe,’ claim that Diocese leaders failed to take basic precautions to prevent the alleged actions — claiming that they either knew or should have known about the abuse, the lawsuits allege.

But Rodriguez fired back, claiming they have a “zero tolerance” policy in place that mandates the removal of any clergy member credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor.

The Diocese spokeswoman also highlighted the restorative steps that they have taken to rectify any past wrongs, including voluntarily publishing a list of credibly accused clergy earlier this year and financially compensating hundreds of victims.

“To date, the diocese has worked with nearly 500 victims and paid over $90 million in settlements through its Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program,” said Rodriguez. “The Diocese of Brooklyn has apologized to victims who have suffered due to sexual abuse by clergy. And we have worked to make amends.”

The law firm representing the newest batch of victims, Jeff Anderson & Associates, have filed 262 lawsuits against the Catholic Diocese statewide — including 36 lawsuits in Brooklyn, according to the firm.

The firm’s chief legal eagle praised the survivors for their courage in holding the church accountable for its failure to protect its most vulnerable members.

“Survivors are the ones — through their truth, through their voice, and now through this law — that are shining the bright spotlight on the dark and dangerous practices so long employed by Catholic Bishops, who failed to protect kids the way that they deserve to be protected,” said Jeff Anderson. “It’s a new day.”

The plaintiffs are suing under the Child Victims Act that took effect on Aug. 14, and provides victims who were abused as minors with a 365-day “looks back window” to circumvent statute of limitations restrictions and file lawsuits against their abusers — regardless of when the abuse occurred.

The law, which was first passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Feb. 14, has prompted 694 lawsuits across New York State since it took effect last month.

Reach reporter Aidan Graham at agraham@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–4577. Follow him at twitter.com/aidangraham95.