"the Michael Cohen of the Diocese': Brooklyn Nun and Former Queens Altar Boy Not Surprised by New Claim Monsignor Otto Garcia Was Predatory Priest, Call Him Church's "Fixer" and "Clean-up Man"
By Nancy Dillon and Dan Good
February 16, 2019
|Monsignor Otto Garcia outside of Joan of Arc Parish in Jackson Heights, Queens, in 2013. (Pearl Gabel / Pearl Gabel for New York Daily N)|
She calls him her "nemesis" and the "fixer" of the Diocese of Brooklyn — and she's not surprised by a new allegation he too was a predatory priest.
Sister Sally Butler, a longtime Brooklyn nun, says Queens-based Monsignor Otto Garcia personally covered up multiple sex abuse complaints involving other priests while serving in high-ranking positions under Bishop Thomas Daily.
She brought forward three cases to the diocese, she said, so hearing this week he's now facing the first public allegation he personally molested an adolescent boy in the early 1970s was hardly a shock.
"He was the Michael Cohen of the diocese. He was the 'fixer.' He seemed to be a totally amoral person," she said of Garcia, comparing him to the disgraced lawyer who pleaded guilty last year to illegally funneling money to cover up alleged affairs involving President Trump.
Butler spoke out after Queens resident Thomas Davis told the Daily News in an exclusive interview that Garcia sexually assaulted him multiple times when he was a minor working in the rectory at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Flushing between 1973 and 1975.
|Msgr. Otto Garcia is a high-ranking figure in the Diocese of Brooklyn. (Robert Rosamilio / New York Daily News)|
Garcia denied the allegations to The News, claiming he barely knew Davis. "I had so little contact with him that I didn't know him at all," he said.
The Brooklyn Diocese released the names Friday of 108 priests credibly accused of sexual misconduct. Garcia was one of two priests listed separately who had an allegation against him that was deemed "unsubstantiated."
Former Queens resident Bob Burns said hearing the new allegation against Garcia made him "feel violated again."
"I'm just pissed off. I'm angry," he told The News. "I wish I was shocked. I always had issues with (Garcia). He was the clean-up man."
Burns, 59, said he was sent to Garcia in 1993 after reporting to the church he'd been sexually assaulted by Father Thomas O'Rourke when he was 14 years old in the summer of 1974.
He said Garcia collected all his information then helped cover up the entire case, clearing the way for O'Rourke, after some alleged counseling, to return to ministry as pastor at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Brooklyn.
"They believed him, not me. Garcia basically said, 'We trust him. He's a priest,'" he recalled.
"I'm having a visceral reaction," Burns said while discussing Davis' allegation. "The person I went to for help was as bad as the person I wanted to get away from. The systemic cover-up just seems to go deeper and deeper. I still have faith, but I don't have it in the Catholic church anymore."
Both Burns and Butler, 83, said they don't know Davis personally but believe his allegation against Garcia.
"I would have no reason to think Mr. Davis is not telling the truth. Why on earth put yourself through that?" Burns said in a phone interview.
Burns — a married dad now living in Maryland — said Garcia personally told him back in 1993 that O'Rourke admitted groping him when confronted with the allegation. Still, Garcia let it slide.
"O'Rourke claimed it was more of a fondling incident and that I was the only one — that it had never happened any other time," Burns recalled. "Garcia said they told O'Rourke not to make any contact with me and that they were going to send him to St. Luke's in Maryland for treatment."
Burns said he was adamant that O'Rourke was lying.
"(O'Rourke) said it was just fondling, but it was aggressive, almost to the point of a violent sexual assault. This wasn't a situation where he put his hand in the wrong place. It was premeditated," he said.
Burns said he told Garcia the explicit details of his case. Garcia heard how O'Rourke groomed Burns over a period of months and eventually drove him to visit the Naval Academy in Annapolis that summer in 1974, taking a strange detour on the drive home that required them to spend an unplanned night together in a Chevy Chase hotel — in a room that he said had only one bed.
"My spidey-senses started to go off, but I wasn't smart enough to know what was going on," he recalled.
Burns said when he emerged from the bathroom at one point, O'Rourke had stripped to his boxers. The priest then began offering him surprise gifts he bought at the Naval Academy, he said.
"Then the assault occurred," Burns said. "By a medical definition, there was no penetration, but it was an aggressive, overpowering, violent assault. He finishes up, pats me on the back and goes to sleep."
Burns said he crawled out of the bed and spent the rest of the night locked in the bathroom.
"I was physically ill. I could barely talk," he said. It took him many years before he could tell anyone what happened, much less take his story to the church.
O'Rourke, who died in 1998, was later accused in a lawsuit of repeatedly sexually abusing an altar boy at Corpus Christi Church in Woodside, where he worked in the 1960s.
Garcia — who would not talk about his role in handling sex abuse allegations within the diocese during a recent phone interview — previously confirmed that O'Rourke admitted to abusing Burns.
"It was very troubling for him. He recognized the effect it had on someone who trusted him," Garcia told Catholic Standard in 2002.
Burns joined a 2003 lawsuit filed by dozens of victims, but the statute of limitations for his claim had run out. He eventually accepted a settlement. He can't sue again, but he is free to talk about his experience.
Butler, meanwhile, told The News she was one of three nuns who reached out to diocese brass in 1996 and reported that three priests sexually molested adolescent boys in a Brooklyn parish in the mid 1970's.
One of the boys was Carlos Cruz, an orphan partially raised by Butler who confided in her that the Rev. Anthony J. Failla molested him 20 years prior at St. Michael-St. Edward's in Fort Greene.
Butler said Garcia was in charge of the internal investigation involving the three priests. She said Garcia never notified police and allowed Failla to quietly move to Florida. Failla died last year.
Garcia defended the diocese's handling of Failla and other abusive priests in a 2002 New York Times interview.
"When we discovered that there were some allegations with credibility, to the best of our ability, we investigated them and we took action," Garcia said in the Times.
Butler said another of the three priests involved in the complaints was Father Brian F.X. Callahan, who died in 2003.
She described going with the two other nuns to meet with Garcia and his lawyers at the Chancery to discuss the complaints — but she said they only received lip service.
"He dismissed us as unimportant. He told us it would be taken care of. He said that to everybody," she said.
She said Cruz, who eventually moved to Schenectady and lived with his wife and children there before his death in 2015, "hated" Garcia for his handling of the situation.
The nun, who still lives in Fort Greene, said she hopes Davis gets a more thorough hearing of his grievances and a shot at some form of justice.
"I hope he can see it through. I want him to do it for Carlos, too," she said.
"Carlos died of a massive heart attack after years of flashbacks and panic attacks and God knows what else," she said.
"I know he would have had a different life (without the abuse)," she said. "He was a very bright kid. I'm grateful for having known him."
With Linda Stasi and Molly Crane-Newman
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