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Lawyers release report naming abusive priests to prompt victims to apply for diocese’s fund

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A flock of legal eagles on Thursday released a list of Kings County’s most corrupt Catholic priests that they hope will encourage sexual-abuse victims to apply for compensation from the Diocese of Brooklyn before it’s too late, according to one of the lawyers.

“We’re hoping to raise awareness with this report about the Brooklyn Diocese, the availability of this program for survivors, and specifically that the clock is running and there’s a hard deadline,” said Jerry Kristal, who works for law firm Weitz and Luxenberg, which released the list as part of a multi-firm collective called Lawyers Helping Survivors of Child Sex Abuse.

The document, entitled “Hidden Disgrace,” identifies 65 priests within the local diocese who were accused or convicted of sex crimes against children. In June, the Diocese of Brooklyn launched a fund to compensate sexual-abuse victims, but survivors have a Dec. 21 deadline to report incidents in order to be eligible for money from the program.

The legal eagles compiled their list of ordained predators by culling survivor testimonies, media reports, and online resources, including bishopaccountability.org, a website that documents abuse by clergymen.

The majority of the priests listed in the report never faced a judge due to New York State’s strict statute-of-limitation rules, according to Kristal, who said he and his fellow attorneys only included names provided by credible victims, whom the lawyers would happily represent if state legislators ever amend the laws protecting pedophiles.

“We would not register them as clients if we would not file a lawsuit on their behalf if we had the ability to do so,” he said.

The list includes eight clergymen who have not been publicly accused of child sex abuse before, but the diocese has not vetted those priests, and the allegations made against them are undetermined, according to a spokeswoman, who suggested their accusers may be looking to cash in on the Church’s compensation program by filing false claims.

“When money is made available through a program like the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, there is always the risk of fraudulent allegations brought by people looking to make money,” Carolyn Erstad said in a statement. “Therefore, allegations made after the start of the compensation program against priests in good standing must be investigat­ed.”

At least one man on the list was exonerated after it became clear the accuser who claimed the priest was a pedophile had the wrong guy, according to Erstad, who said the report also includes foreign and other clergymen who are not members of the local diocese.

The diocesan spokeswoman accused the lawyers of using victims’ grief and ignorance of the compensation program — which does not require the aid of an attorney to apply — to cash in on fees from the settlements, and said that Lawyers Helping Survivors of Child Sex Abuse is masquerading as a do-good group in order to lure clients.

“If they are not representing survivors pro-bono, this is a misleading way to attain clients,” Erstad said.

But Kristal refuted the spokeswoman’s claim, saying he and his partners never represented their group as a charitable organization and that they tell all potential clients that they can apply to the fund independently in order to retain any settlement in its entirety.

“We have never put ourselves out as a non-profit,” he said. “They know we’re lawyers, they know they can register themselves if they want.”

The Diocese of Brooklyn created the fund to provide relief and closure to victims who can’t see legal remedies due to statute-of-limitation laws. The program does not stop beneficiaries from naming their attackers or describing their abuse, but it does prohibit them filing suit against the Catholic Church after accepting money.

Abuse victims interested in applying for a settlement can do so online at www.brooklyndiocese-ircp.com or by calling (855) 796–3463.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Updated 5:51 pm, July 9, 2018
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