NEW ORLEANS (LA)
New Orleans Advocate [New Orleans LA]
August 23, 2021
By Ramon Antonio Vargas and David Hammer | Staff Writer and WWL-TV
The plaintiff contends that the archdiocese would perhaps have rejected Brignac if the Christian Brothers had been transparent about the reason it ousted him.
NEW ORLEANS — Though serial child molester and former Catholic deacon George Brignac has been dead for more than a year, the legal fallout from how local church officials handled one of the area’s most notorious clerical predators continued to unfold last week.
A man who alleged he was raped as a boy by Brignac decades ago filed a lawsuit for damages against the Christian Brothers order, arguing that the organization should have stopped Brignac from ever becoming a deacon. The plaintiff was a primary witness in the last of four attempts to criminally prosecute Brignac, and collected a $550,000 settlement from the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 2018.
The 12-page suit, filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court, recounts how Brignac had been ousted from the Christian Brothers in 1960 and was defensive when asked about it by archdiocesan officials during an interview before his 1976 ordination.
A member of an archdiocesan panel that evaluated Brignac at the time requested information from the Christian Brothers about the removal, according to prosecutors’ files. It’s never been clear what the response was, but the order gave Brignac a positive recommendation, and the archdiocese accepted him as a deacon.
In 2019, long after he had been removed from ministry and authorities tried for a fourth time to prosecute him, Brignac’s twin brother told police the real reason Brignac had been kicked out of the order. George Brignac had been “too friendly with boys,” according to the Rev. Horace L. Brignac, who has since died.
Those revelations were first reported after George Brignac died and prosecutors’ files became public.
The plaintiff in Friday’s suit and his attorney, Richard Trahant, contend that the archdiocese may have rejected Brignac if the Christian Brothers had been transparent about the reason it ousted him.
The suit contends that would have spared the plaintiff from being repeatedly raped by Brignac beginning in 1978, when he was an underage altar boy at Our Lady of the Rosary. Brignac is thought to have molested at least 14 other children after he became a deacon, having already abused more than 10 minors before his ordination.
The plaintiff, who is suing under a pseudonym, said he hopes to exact a measure of justice through his lawsuit.
“They could have saved a lot of people a lot of trauma just by doing the right thing,” the plaintiff said during an interview Monday. “And they didn’t. They’d rather save themselves than other people.”
Christian Brothers officials, whose religious order is separate from the archdiocese, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
All told, local authorities arrested Brignac three times between 1977 and 1988 on allegations of child sexual abuse. He was acquitted at trial once, and prosecutors dropped charges the two other times.
After his third arrest, the archdiocese permanently removed Brignac from the ministry. But Brignac was allowed to join the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic community service club, and to serve as a reader during Masses at St. Mary Magdalen in Metairie in more recent years.
His affiliation with the Knights of Columbus and St. Mary Magdalen only came to an end after the plaintiff received his sex abuse settlement from the archdiocese and spoke publicly about it.
At the time, Archbishop Gregory Aymond said he was unaware that Brignac was continuing to read at Mass. The prosecutorial record shows other church officials had approved Brignac to participate in the liturgy through a church program meant to weed out child predators, even though Brignac acknowledged the pedophilia claims against him on the official forms.
There are also documents in the record showing Brignac helped organize a special children’s service and spoke to kids at the church as recently as 2017.
The plaintiff was represented by another attorney, Roger Stetter, in the settlement, which set off a furor that prompted the archdiocese to publicize a list of dozens of priests and deacons who were strongly suspected of child molestation. In turn, that list set off a wave of lawsuits that drove the archdiocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May 2020.
New Orleans police arrested Brignac again after the plaintiff came forward with his story, and prosecutors charged him with child rape. But Brignac died on June 29, 2020, at age 85 while out on bail and awaiting trial.
The files, which subsequently became public, provided the most complete glimpse of how church officials responded to the many claims against him. They also showed that the archdiocese in one year alone spent more than $3 million settling claims from Brignac victims who came forward after reports exposed his continued association with the church.
The Christian Brothers order is active in four local schools: Christian Brothers and De La Salle High schools in New Orleans, Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie and St. Paul’s High School in Covington.