Legal Group Adds to List of Brooklyn Priests Named in Child Abuse Cases
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
December 15, 2017
|The Cathedral-Basilica of St. James Cathedral in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo by Josh Ross|
A report sent to media outlets by an attorney group on Thursday details abuse allegations against 65 priests at the Brooklyn Diocese, including eight priests who have never been publicly identified as abusers.
The report comes out just days before a filing deadline to receive compensation provided by the diocese to abuse victims.
The priests served in about 70 churches across Brooklyn and roughly 65 in Queens, and allegations date back decades, according to the report put out by Lawyers Helping Survivors of Child Sex Abuse. The attorney group consists of the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg in conjunction with sex abuse specialty firms James, Vernon & Weeks and Noaker Law Firm.
In June, the diocese launched the compensation program, known as the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP). Survivors must report abuse to the diocese by Dec. 21 in order to be eligible to participate.
“This report aims to shine a light on the credibly accused predators in Brooklyn and Queens and to let survivors know that their abusers will not be hidden any longer.” attorney Jerry Kristal, of Weitz & Luxenberg, said in a statement.
Carolyn Erstad, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Diocese, however, says that it appears that lawyers are trying to get in on the action in order to take a cut of the IRPC settlements before the deadline, and that some of the names on the list are of innocent men.
While many of the priests listed by the legal group were placed on leave, defrocked by the church or faced charges, allegations against others have not been confirmed.
“Survivors who receive settlements are welcome to publicize the names of their abusers. When names of priests and former priests, who were credibly accused, become public because of this program [IRPC], it is more evidence that the program is working as the diocese intended,” the diocese said in a statement. “However, it appears today as though lawyers, looking for new clients, have hastily and irresponsibly published some names of innocent men.”
The diocese says that many of the names on this list have already been published, and some were taken from a list recently posted by the Diocese of Brooklyn on its own website. “However other names published today raise serious concerns and should be a red flag,” the diocese said.
For example, according to Erstad, Father Richard Lewkiewicz, who is listed in the report, “was indisputably exonerated after it became evident that his accuser had identified the wrong person. He is a priest in good standing who has now been falsely labeled as an abuser,” the diocese said.”
The report also names priests who have been accused for the first time in recent weeks. The credibility of the allegations made against them has not yet been determined, and the diocese said that publishing their names at this point is unethical.
“When money is made available through a compensation program like the IRCP, there is always the risk of fraudulent allegations brought by people looking to make money. Therefore allegations made after the start of the compensation program against priests in good standing must be investigated,” Erstad said.
Lawyers Helping Survivors of Child Sex Abuse said the report was created from accounts of clergy sex abuse survivors who have come forward to them, along with media reports and online sources, including bishopaccountability.org. In the report, however, the legal group says, “The allegations listed should not be considered substantiated claims.”
The report considers abuse to be any contact of a sexual nature with a minor, including online contact. It includes diocesan and non-diocesan priests accused of abuse that had at least one assignment in the Brooklyn Diocese.
The diocese says, however, that there are priests from foreign countries as well as religious order priests, who do not belong to the Diocese of Brooklyn, on the list.
In June, during phase I of the IRCP, the Brooklyn Diocese sent letters to about 235 people who have previously reported being abused by a diocesan clergy member. A diocese spokeswoman told the Brooklyn Eagle at that time that the abuse allegations go back as far as 1934. Families can apply if the victim is deceased.
Phase II, which began in October, opened the program up to people who had not previously reported abuse. This is where the diocese says some new claims against priests in good standing have emerged and are being investigated for the first time.
Is an attorney necessary?
The diocese says that the two-page online application for IRCP does not require an attorney, though a victim must consult with a lawyer before signing the release. The program’s independent administrators provide pro bono attorneys for this purpose.
“A large number of survivors have applied to the program without hiring attorneys and have been able to keep their entire settlements,” the diocese said.
According to the program’s protocols, after a victim applies, independent administrators determine whether the submitted claim meets the eligibility requirements and, if so, the compensation to be paid. The program is administered by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros. Feinberg also served as the administrator of the compensation fund for the Sept. 11 victims' families.
The protocol states:
“Participation in the IRCP is completely voluntary and does not affect any rights the claimant may have until and unless the claimant accepts the compensation amount and signs a release after required consultation with a lawyer. If you are not represented by an attorney, before signing the release the IRCP will provide pro bono legal counseling to you for the sole purpose of advising you concerning the language and binding nature of the release.
The protocol adds, “A claimant need not be represented by an attorney to participate in the program but may choose to be represented by an attorney if he or she wishes to be so represented. Whether or not a person is represented by an attorney will have no bearing on the administrators’ decision.”