NEW ORLEANS (LA)
WDSU [New Orleans]
November 20, 2023
By Aubry Killion
Sex abuse survivors say they fear hundreds of claims filed could be at risk of unraveling.
Although legislation was passed offering a window giving survivors more time to sue, they say the clock is ticking for the Louisiana Supreme Court to rule if the legislation is constitutional.Advertisement
“I was an altar boy,” Mike B. said. “Deacon George Brignac abused me in many different ways in many different places, anywhere between 50 to 80 different instances. For years, I couldn’t walk into a church without having an anxiety attack.”
Mike B. said he received a large settlement from the Archdiocese before they went bankrupt.
Mike B. says it’s not enough to pay for therapy for the rest of his life or the pain of being abused as a child. He never got his day in court. George Brignac, who was arrested for rape, died in 2020, leaving a dark and deep hole.
“Very similar to the delays at this point that many victims are dealing with waiting for the issue of prescription to be settled by the Louisiana Supreme Court so their cases can move forward,” Mike B. said.
Mike is referring to legislation passed in 2021 allowing more sex abuse survivors to sue. Before that, survivors typically had until they were 28.
“The look-back window is three years from the time the governor signed the bill in June 2021. We are now 6 to 8 months away from the expiration of that look-back window,” James Adams said. “It seems like things just want to get pushed aside, and let’s continue and forget this ever happened.”
Adams fought at the state capitol to push the legislation. He stressed this legislation is not specific to the church. It’s for any survivor.
Adams also has kept a secret.
“That’s a struggle, too,” Adams said.
Adams alleges as a child, he was taken under the wing of a priest and was sexually abused.
That priest is dead.
Adams fears that without a ruling from the Louisiana Supreme Court, his and countless other claims could possibly mean nothing.
Adams says that getting the law changed wasn’t easy.
The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops at first opposed the legislation.
“I have seen directly how one organization plans to use prescription to intimidate survivors,” Adams said at the state capitol in 2021. “In a recent objection filed in court, the Archdiocese of New Orleans said, and I quote ‘at the appropriate time if mediation is not successful the debtor will object to all or most of the abuse proofs of claims because among other things the vast majority of them are prescribed on their face’ the prescription issue is used to make survivors go away.”
The Archdiocese of New Orleans declined an on-camera interview.
They issued the following statement:
“The chapter 11 proceedings are the way the Church has sought to bring as many survivors of abuse forward to be fairly and justly compensated no matter when the abuse occurred. This process has been far more complicated, long, and costly than anticipated, a situation that has been exacerbated by issues brought to the court by trial attorneys. While we are pleased and hopeful with the recent progress being made on all sides, we share in the frustration of the survivors as we work daily to move these bankruptcy proceedings forward and to resolution.”
“It is not for us to determine the constitutionality of a law.”
“You can only imagine what I have been through, the horrific stories,” John Anderson said.
Anderson says he was also abused and the church settled with him.
“I was pinned against the wall so bad that it was ‘John take this or it is nothing,’” Anderson said.
Kathryn Robb, executive director of Child USAdvocacy, fought for the legislation.
WDSU asked about any potential impact with the state Supreme Court not making a ruling on the legislation.
“In short, what it means is the children of Louisiana are in grave danger also, the state of Louisiana is putting their nose up at basic notions of fundamental justice for those who have been harmed,” Robb said.
Robb said most sex abuse victims don’t come forward until they are between the ages of 50-70 years old, if ever.
Many take it to their grave.
Robb also has concerns about the annual Red Mass. The mass is the opening of the judicial year.
“I see the Red Mass as lobbying disguised as prayer,” Robb said.
The archdiocese responded with the following statement:
“The Red Mass is a tradition that dates back centuries with the first one having been celebrated in the 1200s in Paris. In the Archdiocese of New Orleans the Red Mass has been sponsored by the St Thomas Moore Association for 71 years. As Archbishop of New Orleans, Archbishop Aymond is the main celebrant but is not the homilist, as a special guest member of the clergy, usually from outside of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, is invited to preach each year. Almost every diocese in the country and more around the world celebrate a Red Mass annually. Ms. Robb is entitled to her opinion, but we find this suggestion based on no real experience offensive to the Archdiocese, the members of the bar that organize the Mass annually, and to the members of the bench and bar of all faiths that attend.”
A spokesperson for the Louisiana Supreme Court issued WDSU the following statement:
“The Louisiana Supreme Court is unable to comment on the constitutionality of existing law or on any litigation that may arise concerning a law’s constitutionality.
“Regarding the annual Red Mass, a tradition that dates back to the 1950’s in Louisiana, all members of the bench and bar of all faiths are invited to attend by the St. Thomas More Catholic Lawyers Association. In all matters that come before them, Supreme Court Justices have an obligation to decide a matter based only on the facts and the existing law. Justices also have an ethical and legal obligation to follow the law and adhere to the Code of Judicial Conduct.”
Robb said, “It is pretty clear they have a lot of power and in many ways.”
Mike B. says he just hopes he can help others by speaking up.
“I hope that telling my story can prevent that from happening,” Mike B. said. “It’s terrible, children being sexually abused by pedophiles. It’s not a normal thing; it’s an awful thing. I would say that it’s healthier to let the secret out. Just don’t give up.”
The archdiocese also issued the following information:
The Archdiocesan Victims Assistance Response Team works directly with abuse survivors and their families. Survivors may receive counseling through Catholic Counseling Service or may request a referral list of counselors and therapists they may choose.
You can find the details regarding our safe environment program administered through the Office of Child and Youth Protection online here: https://nolacatholic.org/safe-environment.