Former New Orleans Deacon George Brignac Jailed; First Arrest since Release of List of Accused Clergy
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
September 21, 2019
|George Feldner Brignac|
A former Catholic deacon who was removed from ministry in 1988 following multiple child molestation accusations was jailed on a count of first-degree rape early Saturday, the first arrest of a clergyman in New Orleans on a sex-abuse charge since the church’s decades-old crisis reignited a little more than a year ago.
Complete details about what is just the latest criminal case against George Feldner Brignac, 84, weren’t immediately available. But records from the New Orleans Police Department and the city’s lockup show Brignac was booked in connection with a complaint made Aug. 28, 2018.
The address provided for that complaint is in the 3300 block of Esplanade Avenue, where Brignac worked as co-director of the altar boy program at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in the 1970s and 1980s.
A New Orleans Police Department spokesman on Saturday said the ensuing investigation centered on "alleged sexual abuse spanning several years." Police obtained a warrant to book Brignac on Friday — he was arrested in Metairie, where he lives, and transferred to New Orleans' jail by about 3 a.m. Saturday, according to the NOPD and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office.
|The 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 because at that time he had been removed from the diaconate ministry following allegations of sexual abuse of children. Brignac has never been convicted of those charges.|
Brignac would face mandatory life imprisonment if convicted of first-degree rape, which has no statute of limitations — meaning prosecutors can try the case no matter how long ago the alleged crime occurred.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans has already paid hundreds of thousands of dollars out to people claiming to have been abused by Brignac, who until last year had been allowed to read as a lector at a church in Metairie.
Despite having been the subject of multiple police inquiries over the years, Brignac has never been convicted of a sex crime. Police last summer said they were reinvestigating him in connection with new abuse allegations after The New Orleans Advocate reported that the church had made a recent Brignac-related payout. The newspaper also exposed his ongoing role as a Mass lector in a diocesan church.
Brignac has previously been tried in Jefferson Parish on charges that he molested boys at St. Matthew the Apostle in the 1970s, before he went to work at Our Lady of the Rosary. He was acquitted.
New Orleans police then arrested him on similar allegations in 1980 and 1988. Prosecutors opted against pursuing those charges, though Brignac was removed from the ministry following the latter of those cases.
After the 1988 charge was dismissed, then-Archbishop Phillip Hannan sent a letter to Brignac’s defense attorney, saying, “I am deeply grateful to you for your excellent work in this case and your wonderful support of Deacon Brignac.”
Court records show archdiocesan officials back then subsequently tried to get Brignac reinstated as a deacon, but Archbishop Francis Schulte — Hannan’s successor — put an end to those efforts.
Last year, the archdiocese paid more than $500,000 to an accuser who said he was raped by Brignac between 1979 and 1982, while he was helping run Our Lady of the Rosary’s altar boy program. At least three other plaintiffs have filed similar lawsuits in Civil District Court. One has settled, and another is pending. In the third case, there has been no activity on the record since it was filed, and its status was unclear.
An unknown number of others claiming to have been victimized by Brignac have either settled or are negotiating to do so through a private mediation process involving the archdiocese.
Brignac was reading at Masses at St. Mary Magdalene Church as recently as the summer of 2018, The Advocate reported at the time. Archbishop Gregory Aymond said then that he had not previously been made aware, was “utterly surprised and embarrassed” to learn that, and stripped Brignac of that privilege.
The Knights of Columbus had also let Brignac hold leadership roles, having lectured children and picked out costumes for them during a 2017 celebration of the Feast of Fatima, according to documents associated with one of the pending suits.
Brignac was among two deacons and 55 priests included on the Nov. 2 list released by Aymond of clergymen with ties to the New Orleans area who were considered to have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse. Four priests, including one who’d been sent to federal prison in a child abuse and kidnapping case, were added to that roster in June.
Though several on the list are still living, Brignac appears to be the first to face prosecution following the release of that roster.
Brignac’s attorney, Martin Regan, on Saturday morning said he had only just learned his client had been arrested and couldn’t comment.
In one telephone interview with the newspaper, Brignac denied wrongdoing. But in another, he stopped short of denying he had touched young boys.
“I would not have gone into teaching if I were not attracted to children,” he said in that other interview, insisting he never would have touched a child for “immoral purposes” and had been labeled “asexual” by a psychologist. He also said, “I’m not going to deny that I have touched a child.”
New Orleans' archbishop since 2009, Aymond has said he referred the credibly accused clergy list — released in response to calls for transparency — to law enforcement authorities and would support any resulting probes.
In a statement Saturday about Brignac's arrest, the archdiocese said, "We, too, seek truth and justice and as always we pledge our full cooperation in the law enforcement investigation."