Brooklyn Catholic Diocese Settles with New York AG for Mishandling Clergy Sex Abuse Cases

Claims Journal [San Diego CA]

April 19, 2024

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced an agreement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn to address years of reported mismanaging clergy sexual abuse cases and for failing to uphold the policies and procedures it adopted for investigating and responding to abuse complaints.

The agreement requires the diocese to take action to prevent and address allegations of clergy sexual abuse and reform past policies, including:

  • Installing an independent, secular monitor who will oversee the diocese’s compliance with enhanced policies and procedures and issue an annual report on the Diocese’s handling of sexual abuse cases;
  • Strengthening existing policies and procedures for handling sexual abuse cases to include expedited review timelines and transparency throughout the process;
  • Creating new offices, committees, and positions within the diocese devoted to ensuring the safety of minors and other vulnerable communities; and
  • Hiring a Clergy Monitor with law enforcement or counseling experience to develop and oversee abuse prevention plans for priests who have been accused of sexual abuse.

An investigation by the Office of the Attorney General reportedly found the diocese failed to consistently comply with its own policies and procedures for responding to sexual abuse. The diocese established these policies shortly after the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002 following media reports of widespread clergy sexual abuse.

The OAG also found that the diocese’s policies were not adequate to guarantee the safety and protection of children. The diocese did not have policies in place to ensure a prompt and thorough response to allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct. In various matters, the Diocesan Review Board took too long to respond to a complaint or would arbitrarily apply inconsistent standards of proof when evaluating the credibility of an accusation. In certain instances, when an allegation of sexual abuse or misconduct was found to be credible, the Diocese did not disclose that information to the public and failed to sufficiently monitor the accused priests or clergy, according to the OAG.

  • One priest admitted to the diocese he had repeatedly sexually abused minors. He was removed from all pastoral duties, but the diocese did not inform parishioners. After USCCB adopted the Charter in 2002, the Diocese encouraged the priest to seek a voluntary laicization, or official removal from the priesthood, often referred to as “defrocking,” but he initially refused. He eventually agreed to be defrocked, but he requested it be kept confidential. The diocese kept it secret until 2017, when it published a list of priests who had been removed from ministry and publicly announced that this priest had admitted to sexually abusing minors.
  • In the 1990s, after learning of problems with a priest’s conduct, the diocese repeatedly transferred the priest from parish to parish to avoid the complaints. The priest was never monitored, nor was he removed from duty. In 2000, a nun who was the principal of a Catholic school in the diocese resigned from her position because she had witnessed the priest having inappropriate interactions with young boys and the diocese did nothing more than issue a warning. In 2006, one of the priest’s alleged victims accused him of more than 100 incidents of sexual abuse in the 1980s, including masturbation and oral sex. Multiple other individuals corroborated certain facts to support the complaint, which matched additional complaints the Diocese had received from nuns and other clergy members about this priest. Still, after a three-year investigation, the DRB concluded that there was not enough evidence, applying a heightened standard of proof, to find the allegations against the priest credible. The priest was allowed to continue working unmonitored for many years.

As part of the settlement, the diocese agreed to enhanced policies and procedures for mitigating risks and managing allegations of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct, including publicly posting an explanation of the complaint and investigation process. The diocese will also post online a confidential portal and telephone number for submitting complaints and will implement a whistleblower policy to protect complainants from retaliation by diocesan officials. The diocese has also committed to accelerated investigations.

Moving forward, the diocese has committed to publicly announce any decisions to remove priests or other clergy members from active ministry by issuing a press release and adding the offender’s name to a published list of credibly accused clergy.

Finally, the diocese’s management of sexual abuse complaints and allegations will be subject to review by an independent monitor.

The OAG acknowledged the diocese’s cooperation with the investigation, negotiation and agreement.

In October 2022, James reached a settlement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo for mishandling child sexual abuse cases. Investigations into the Archdiocese of New York and the Dioceses of Albany, Ogdensburg, Rochester, Rockville Centre and Syracuse remain ongoing.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg in northern New York said last year that it was filing for bankruptcy protection as it faces more than 100 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse.