Insurance Company Sues Diocese of Brooklyn over Sex Abuse Cases Alleging It Knew of Prolific Abuser
By Sean Lahman
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
December 29, 2020
An insurance company representing the Diocese of Brooklyn says it should not be responsible for paying settlements to victims who say they were sexually abused by the Diocese's priests.
In a federal lawsuit filed Monday, Arrowood Indemnity Company asks the court to rule that it should not be obligated to defend or indemnify the Diocese because of "allegations of the Diocese’s long-standing specific knowledge of individual instances of abuse and its decades-long culture of coverup."
Arrowood also alleges that the Diocese has failed to provide copies of internal documents that would shed light on what it knew about allegations of abuse and what steps it took in response.
"The information the Diocese has provided... is inappropriately redacted, contains large chronological gaps, and is missing numerous pages without explanation," court papers said.
The suit also says that while the diocese provided documents in response to a subpoena from the state's Attorney General, Arrowood's repeated requests for copies of those documents have gone unanswered.
Nearly 500 lawsuits have been filed against the Diocese of Brooklyn alleging sexual abuse of minors under New York's Child Victims Act.
That legislation, adopted in early 2019, carved out a one-year window during which suits can be brought by people who allege they were sexually abused when they were young.
The special filing period was later extended by a full year, allowing claims to be filed in state court under the CVA statute until Aug. 14, 2021.
The Diocese of Brooklyn encompasses the counties of Brooklyn and Queens in the New York City area. An audit of the diocese finances in 2017 reported that its total cash and other assets was just under $44 million.
Arrowood's complaint names the Diocese of Brooklyn as a defendant along with more than 30 parish churches and diocesan schools. It also names former priest Romano J. Ferraro, a prolific abuser named in more than a dozen pending suits who is currently serving a life sentence in a Massachusetts prison.
Suit alleges diocese knew of abuser
Ferraro's history of abuse and the church's response are at the center of Arrowood's suit. In court papers, the insurer argues that the Diocese was aware of Ferraro's "sexual proclivities" as early as the 1950s, before he was ordained as a priest.
Court papers allege that during the 1960s, Ferraro repeatedly assaulted boys at parishes where he served, and each time the Diocese was made aware of the priest's misconduct, he was simply transferred to another Brooklyn parish.
Ferraro was assigned to the US Navy as a chaplain in 1968, but was dishonorably
discharged two years later based on an allegation of child sexual abuse, according to court papers. He returned to Brooklyn in 1971 where he is accused of continuing to abuse boys as he moved from parish to parish for the next 20 years.
In 2004, Ferraro was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for repeatedly raping a boy from 1973-80 in Billerica, Massachusetts starting when the boy was age 7. At trial, Ferraro admitted that he was a pedophile who had abused perhaps dozens of boys.
Citing information contained in the lawsuits against Ferraro, Arrowood says that church leaders knew that priests serving in the Diocese of Brooklyn "were grooming and sexually molesting children with whom the priests would have contact in their ministry and pastoral functions.”
In its cause of action, Arrowood said the Diocese "engaged in a pattern of continuously reassigning and transferring Ferraro on at least nineteen (19) occasions despite knowledge that he was a pedophile."
It also claims that the Diocese "cultivated a culture of opportunity for Ferraro to sexually abuse children" and "failed to investigate prior allegations of sexual abuse of children by Ferraro, and failed to report the abuse to the authorities."
Arrowood's lawsuit also chronicles three other priests who have been credibly accused of abuse, and allegations that the Diocese moved them from parish to parish knowing they were likely to prey other victims.
Former priests Thomas O’Rourke, Vincent Sforza, and James Sickler are the subject of at least 14 CVA lawsuits.
Arrowood argues that it has no obligation to defend and/or indemnify the Diocese "because the abuse that is the subject of those Actions was known by the Diocese ... to be certain or substantially certain to occur; the alleged injury from the abuse was expected or intended; and was otherwise not fortuitous."
A similar suit was filed in July by the insurance underwriter Lloyd's of London against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for failing to disclose allegations of sexual abuse when it sought liability insurance, the Indianapolis Star reported.