Former New Orleans Deacon George Brignac Sued; Accused of Sexually Assaulting Another Minor
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
October 29, 2018
A former Catholic Church deacon accused of raping an 8-year-old altar boy decades ago in a case that prompted the Archdiocese of New Orleans to pay out a hefty financial settlement is the target of a new lawsuit containing similar allegations involving another altar boy.
The unidentified plaintiff alleges that George Brignac “engaged in prohibited and unpermitted sexual contact” with him countless times from 1977 to 1982, when the plaintiff was between 8 and 13 years old and Brignac taught at Holy Rosary School.
That is the same time frame and school as in a suit filed against Brignac earlier this year that the archdiocese deemed credible and settled for more than $500,000.
The archdiocese didn't comment on the new plaintiff — who is now about 49 — and his claims, which were made in a 17-page lawsuit filed Monday in Orleans Parish Civil District Court. But it did say in a statement, "Our prayers are with all victims of sexual abuse."
One of the plaintiff’s attorneys, John Denenea, said his client opted against negotiating a settlement with the archdiocese through private mediation. Denenea said he and his client believe such a process is “archaic.”
“The … days of quiet and secret settlements do nothing for healing of victims,” Denenea said. “In our view, healing ... can be accomplished only where victims feel secure and safe in bringing their claims with objective rules and process in our courts of law, rather than secret meetings that are controlled by the church and not by the victim or their family.”
Denenea and another member of the plaintiff’s legal team, Richard Trahant, recently secured a settlement in a separate case for a woman who accused a now-deceased Jesuit priest named Ben Wren of raping her dozens of times at Loyola University beginning in the late 1970s.
Monday’s suit notes that Brignac arrived at Holy Rosary after he had been tried and acquitted on charges in Jefferson Parish that he abused a child while at St. Matthew School.
Brignac met the plaintiff as a third-grade boy in 1977, “grooming him for … abuse” by hugging and kissing him on the head, face and lips, according to the lawsuit.
The following year, the boy’s father abandoned his family, and Brignac assumed a central role in the life of the youngster, who was an altar boy.
Soon, Brignac began reaching under the boy’s cassock and fondling his genitals while they were alone and preparing for morning Mass, the suit says. Countless similar acts ensued, but the abuse escalated in 1981, when Brignac arranged to take a group of altar boys to a local water park, the suit says.
After the trip, Brignac allegedly dropped the boy who is suing him off last. He parked in front of the boy’s home, pulled his swim trunks down, and “assaulted (his) genitals with his mouth and hands,” the lawsuit says.
When the boy got out of the car, Brignac allegedly warned him he would get in trouble if he told anyone what the deacon had done.
The boy stayed silent for years “out of fear and embarrassment, and to protect the man who had become the strongest male influence in his life after his father left,” the lawsuit says.
New Orleans police arrested Brignac on separate child abuse allegations in 1980 and 1988, but prosecutors did not charge him in either case. The archdiocese defrocked him in 1988, but he was not publicly disgraced, and officials allowed him to serve as a lector at St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church until this summer.
The archdiocese removed Brignac from that position after The Advocate reported on the prior lawsuit, the settlement it resulted in, and how the church had not yet disclosed the matter to parishioners.
Monday’s lawsuit accuses the archdiocese of moving Brignac from St. Matthew to Holy Rosary after his arrest to protect itself and him. But, it alleges, the archdiocese took no steps to shield the children he would encounter.
After his case was publicized this year, the archdiocese invited any other unknown victims of Brignac to come forward. In fact, Denenea said, Pope Francis has made public statements encouraging the church to support abuse victims and their families who are pursuing claims in civil courts.
“Several” victims are in discussions with the church to settle their claims through private mediation, according to the lawsuit.
Attorney Roger Stetter told The Advocate in late summer that he had made contact with at least 10 more men who recalled being sexually abused by Brignac. The plaintiff in the earlier lawsuit against Brignac was Stetter's client.
The plaintiff in Monday’s lawsuit was not among those who contacted Stetter, who is not part of the new plaintiff's legal team, Trahant and Denenea said.
The plaintiff contends he is owed an unspecified amount of damages from Brignac and the archdiocese, saying the abuse he suffered has caused “severe and permanent emotional distress, nervousness and anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, crying spells” and suicidal thoughts.
Furthermore, the plaintiff argues that the church’s treatment of Brignac was negligent, fraudulent and preferential, possibly because his twin brother is a longtime priest.
Brignac declined comment when reached Monday.
Statutes of limitation can prevent plaintiffs from seeking damages for actions dating back decades. But attorneys often argue that those don't apply if there were efforts to cover up actions prompting lawsuits.
Published real estate records show Brignac, now 83, donated a home in Metairie to his brother. It is not clear why he made the donation now.
New Orleans police in July announced a criminal inquiry into Brignac, though the status of that investigation isn't known.
Meanwhile, the archdiocese has said it will soon release the names of all priests and clergy who were removed from ministry following credible accusations of sexual abuse of minors.
The archdiocese committed to releasing such a list recently as the church's child sex abuse scandal, which first erupted in the U.S. in 2002, has rekindled nationally and locally – in part because of a sweeping Pennsylvania grand jury report documenting abuse by hundreds of clergy members over decades.
Denenea’s statement referred to the upcoming release of names, saying, “Our courts have clearly stated that the public has an interest in matters of child molestation. And where child molestation is at issue, the church cannot argue that it is a private and internal church matter.”