Ousted Catholic deacon accused of sexual misconduct continued serving 'for several years' as lector

By Chelsea Brasted | Times-Picayune
July 09, 2018

The sixth annual St. Joseph's Altar at the St. Joseph Hospice in Harahan is blessed by George Brignac on March 14, 2008. In the original caption of this photo, Brignac was referred to as 'deacon,' a title the Archdiocese of New Orleans says he should not have held at the time because, by then, he had been removed from the diaconate ministry following allegations of sexual abuse of children. Brignac has never been convicted of those charges.
Photo by Donald Stout

The deacon who prompted the Archdiocese of New Orleans to pay out more than half a million dollars to settle a lawsuit May 11 after he was accused of repeatedly raping an altar boy in the 1970s and '80s continued to serve for years as a lector in the New Orleans metropolitan area.

George Brignac, now 83, was removed from Catholic ministry and education in 1988 after he was accused of fondling a 7-year-old boy after a Christmas party, according to a report in The New Orleans Advocate. By then, Brignac had also been criminally charged with sexually abusing children at least one other time -- in 1977 in Jefferson Parish -- though he was never convicted. 

Before he was ordained, Brignac taught at St. Francis Cabrini School, St. John Vianney Prep and St. Matthew the Apostle. Once ordained, Brignac taught at Our Lady of the Rosary from 1976 to 1988, according to Archbishop Gregory Aymond, as well as Cabrini High School "for a time." 

The lawsuit settled May 11 was filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court and claims Brignac abused an altar boy for several years beginning when the child was 8 and that the allegations were reported to the Archdiocese about four months ago. The case settled for more than $500,000, The New Orleans Advocate reported. 

Though Brignac had been removed from the ordained ministry, he continued to serve as a lector in the lay ministry, which is against the Catholic Church's practices, according to Archdiocese of New Orleans Director of Communications Sarah McDonald. A lector, McDonald said, is typically tasked with reading scripture during Mass, sometimes from the pulpit.

In a statement, Aymond said he learned Brignac had been given permission to serve as a lector "several years ago," though it wasn't clear exactly when he began serving in that capacity. 

"The priest who okayed Mr. Brignac as serving as a lector knew he had been removed from diaconate ministry and should never have granted this permission," Aymond said in the statement. "That was an unfortunate decision, which has caused scandal. I deeply regret this." 

McDonald said Aymond learned Brignac was still serving as a lector after issuing a statement last month informing parishioners about the allegations of sexual abuse against Brignac. That statement, posted to Facebook on June 22, came two days after The New Orleans Advocate reported on the settlement, which had occurred more than a month earlier. 

"Brignac was told he could no longer serve in this capacity (as lector) by that Monday," McDonald said, indicating June 25. 

In the caption for a 2008 photo in The Times-Picayune archives, Brignac is referred to as "deacon," a title he should not have carried for 20 years by that point. In the image, Brignac is reported to be blessing a St. Joseph's Day altar at the St. Joseph Hospice in Harahan. 

In response to an emailed inquiry as to why Brignac would have had been known by that title at the time, McDonald noted St. Joseph Hospice is "not a church-owned facility but is privately owned." She also noted that by then Brignac "had no assignment as such from the Archdiocese of New Orleans."  

"I want to be very clear," McDonald wrote, "that George Brignac had been banned from diaconate ministry and should not have been acting in any capacity as a deacon from 1988 on." 

In the photo, Brignac is seen wearing a name tag, which appears to identify St. Joseph Hospice. A representative for the hospice's corporate office could not immediately comment Monday (July 9) on whether Brignac was employed by or a volunteer for the organization in 2008 nor whether he represented himself as a deacon at that time.

In what The New Orleans Advocate described as "a 20-minute interview," Brignac does not deny touching children.

"Any intimacy between my students and me -- and family and me -- have no sexual motive," Brignac told the newspaper. "I'm not going to deny I've touched a child."

Aymond's full statement in response to questions about the timing of Brignac's removal from ministry is printed below: 

"I was utterly surprised and terribly disappointed when I found out that several years ago a priest had given Mr. Brignac permission to serve as a lector. The priest who okayed Mr. Brignac as serving as a lector knew that he had been removed from diaconate ministry and should never have granted this permission. That was an unfortunate decision, which has caused scandal. I deeply regret this. As soon as I was notified Mr. Brignac was serving as a lector, I took immediate action, and he will no longer serve in that capacity anywhere in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. To the best of my knowledge and according to his file since 1988 he has not served as a deacon in a parish or worked in a Catholic school and has had no ongoing, unsupervised contact with minors in a parish or school setting. I deeply apologize to all those who have made allegations against Mr. Brignac. I am sorry for their suffering. With a contrite heart, I acknowledge the sins of the past. As always I assure anyone who is a victim of sexual abuse of my prayers and desire to work with them towards their healing. If anyone has concerns or allegations of boundary violations or abuse to report, I invite them to come forward so that we can hear from them and investigate thoroughly. No one should experience sexual abuse and especially not by someone in ministry."



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