Former NYC Priest Reveals Abuse After Watching 'Spotlight'

By Ciara Mccarthy
West Village Patch
October 30, 2017

The allegations were made against a prominent Manhattan reverend.

GREENWICH VILLAGE, NY — A former priest has accused a well known figure in the New York City Catholic church of sexually abusing him for a decade staring when the victim was 14 years old.

Stephen Ryan-Vuotto publicly made allegations against Rev. Robert Lott, a priest who worked in the Greenwich Village and Harlem communities until his death in 2002.

Ryan-Vuotto first told his story to the New York Times on Sunday before hosting a press conference with his husband, Michael Vuotto, and his lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, on Monday.

Garabedian, the attorney who was depicted in the film "Spotlight," has reached settlements totaling $2.125 million through claims against multiple New York area priests, he said on Monday.

Ryan-Vuotto's story of years of abuse came after he reached a $500,000 settlement with the Archdiocese of New York through the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Programs, which is funded by the Archdiocese of New York but independently run, he said. The program was established last year to allow victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy to apply for compensation from the church.

Because the statute of limitations in New York requires victims of childhood abuse to come forward before they turn 23, many victims are unable to seek justice or compensation because they are unable to report the abuse until later in their lives, advocates say. Independent mediators with the program determine a compensation amount for victims who come forward if the victims waive their right to future legal action.

The Catholic Church in New York has now paid settlements to more than 180 victims but doesn't release information on priests found to be serial sexual abusers, Garabedian said.

The archdiocese said it does not discuss specific cases, individuals or settlements while the reconciliation and compensation program is underway. Participants are free to discuss their experiences, as Ryan-Vuotto has done.

"We know that no amount of money can make up for the pain and suffering that victim-survivors have endured," Archdiocese spokesman Joe Zwilling said to Patch in an emailed statement. "As Cardinal Dolan noted at the press conference announcing the IRCP, victim-survivors have consistently said that what they really desire is to be listened to, believed, and to hear, 'I'm sorry,' and our reconciliation and compensation program is a tangible sign of our desire to seek forgiveness."

Ryan-Vuotto's story, one of thousands in the years-long scandal of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy, is one of only a handful of public stories in which a priest himself has discussed his experience with abuse.

Ryan-Vuotto, the youngest of five children, said he grew up in Greenwich Village in a devout Catholic family.

This initial close relationship with the Catholic Church, and the pivotal role it played in his family life, contributed to Ryan-Vuotto's initial decision to join the clergy.

"The church was safe," he said on Monday. "The church was home, and that's what, from the earliest days, nurtured the seeds of a vocation in me and made me always want to be a priest."

Shortly after his father died of lung cancer aged 45, Ryan-Vuotto said, the abuse began. Lott abused the then-teenager more than 50 times starting in 1975, Ryan-Vuotto said. The abuse included fondling and sodomy, he said.

Ryan-Vuotto said it was difficult to talk about his experience in large part because of Lott's prominent status in the community. Lott was an associate pastor at St. Joseph's Church in Greenwich Village from 1971 to 1984, according to the parish's website. While in the Village, Lott became known as a "rebel priest," Ryan-Vuotto said, frequently working outside of the parish doors and ministering in the streets.

The pastor was actively involved with the Village's local community board, Community Board 2, and was a co-founder of the Caring Community of Greenwich Village, according to his 2002 obituary in the New York Times.

Later, Lott became known for his work in East Harlem, where organizations and buildings including the Lott Community Development Corporation, the Lott Foundation, the Lott Residence and the Lott Community Home Healthcare are all named after the priest.

"How would a kid like me come out against such a force?" Ryan-Vuotto asked. "It was not possible."

Garabedian and Ryan-Vuotto are also calling for the organizations named in honor of Lott to renamed.

Ryan-Vuotto became a priest in 1995. His last position was as pastor of St. Rita's Church on Staten Island. In 2008, Ryan-Vuotto asked for a leave of absence after disclosing his own sexual abuse to his superiors, he said. Ryan-Vuotto, who was known as Father Ryan during his nearly two decades as a priest, later met the man who would become his husband.

Although he had left the Catholic Church and started a new life with his husband in Albany, Ryan-Vuotto said he didn't start thinking seriously about publicly discussing his teenage years until after he saw the movie "Spotlight." The Oscar-winning 2015 film was inspired by the team of Boston Globe journalists who exposed the long-running abuse of children by Catholic priests in Boston and the church's subsequent efforts to keep the abuse quiet.

"It made me feel I have to do something about this," Ryan-Vuotto said. "If there's anybody out there who is suffering, they can come forward."

He said that he hoped his statements would encourage others to come forward about their abuse. Ryan-Vuotto is the first person to publicly accuse Lott of abuse.

Garabedian, who has represented thousands of victims of childhood sexual abuse, said its was common for "predator priests [to] sexually molest as many children as they can over the course of their lives."


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