Grand Jury Files Child Rape Charge against Disgraced Former Deacon George Brignac
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
December 12, 2019
An Orleans Parish grand jury on Thursday handed up a child rape charge against an aging former Roman Catholic deacon who was removed from the ministry in 1988 over multiple molestation accusations but remained welcome in church circles until last year.
George Brignac, 84, faces a count of first-degree rape in the newest bid from prosecutors to convict a man who decades ago beat similar allegations.
Thursday’s indictment against Brignac comes more two months after New Orleans police arrested him on a warrant accusing him of multiple acts of abuse, including rape, of an altar boy he met while teaching at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in the late 1970s.
Brignac posted a $40,000 bond for his release from jail shortly after his Sept. 21 arrest. Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman on Thursday issued a warrant calling for Brignac to be rearrested, and it is possible he may have to post a higher bond to await the outcome of his case from out of jail.
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office requested that Herman increase Brignac's bail to $1 million, saying there were up to 15 witnesses besides the victim who were prepared to testify that the deacon had similarly assaulted them when they were children.
An assistant district attorney also argued that Brignac was a "tremendous" flight risk — the octogenarian faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted of first-degree rape.
Herman said she would let the judge presiding over the case to set Brignac's bail. The case had not yet been allotted to any judge Thursday afternoon.
Brignac is the first clergyman in the area to be charged with sex abuse since the church’s long-simmering child molestation crisis boiled over last year, leading Brignac and dozens of others to be included on the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ list of priests and deacons suspected of preying on minors.
A court affidavit summarizing the case which triggered Brignac’s arrest this fall contains graphic details.
According to the document, Brignac was teaching math and helping direct the altar boy program at Our Lady of the Rosary near Bayou St. John in 1978 when he met the victim, then 7. The child had just enrolled in the altar boy program, and Brignac allegedly groomed him by buying him snacks as well as soft drinks and hosting him at his home.
Over the ensuing years, until the boy was 12, Brignac forced oral sex on the child, masturbated in front of him and eventually raped him, police allege. Most of the attacks occurred at Brignac’s home, though occasionally he would molest the boy in a classroom or drive him to City Park to abuse him in the car, according to police.
Police said the now grown-up victim spoke with them last year, when he also received more than $500,000 to settle a lawsuit that he and his attorney, Roger Stetter, filed against the archdiocese.
Police said he buttressed his case by providing investigators with love notes from Brignac which read “I love you,” “would love hearing from you and seeing you again” and “What words can tell you of the love I have for you.”
Another complained about how the victim would allegedly refuse to acknowledge Brignac’s existence at times, police said. Part of one note read: “Your kindness and warmth have you dear to me. I’ll miss you, love Mr. Brignac.”
Another client of Stetter who this year received a settlement from the archdiocese over a claim involving Brignac was scheduled to meet with the District Attorney's Office last month.
That man, who’s previously identified himself publicly as Morris Daniels, said he was a 7th grader at Our Lady of the Rosary in 1982 when Brignac, his teacher, abused him for the first time. According to Daniels, Brignac fondled him in a bathroom stall while masturbating.
Daniels said Brignac subsequently raped him and forced him to engage in other sexual activities. Daniels said he left the school after one year and came forward when he saw news coverage of the lawsuit brought by the other victim.
News of the payout in the suit from the new criminal case's victim, who has declined to publicly identify himself, was exposed by The Advocate last summer.
Word of the settlement came about the same time that a Pennsylvania grand jury published a report revealing hundreds of previously undisclosed clergy molestation cases, rekindling the Catholic Church’s decades-old abuse scandal.
Making matters worse for the archdiocese is that Brignac at the time was still being allowed to serve as a lector during Masses at St. Mary Magdalen Church. Describing himself as “utterly surprised and embarrassed” to learn of that, Archbishop Gregory Aymond soon stripped Brignac of that privilege.
Meanwhile, the Knights of Columbus had also let Brignac hold leadership roles. He lectured children and picked out costumes for them during a celebration of the Feast of Fatima in 2017, according to documents in another suit against Brignac that hasn’t been resolved.
Brignac landed on a list that Aymond published last fall of New Orleans-area clergymen who were deemed to have been faced with credible sexual abuse allegations. Several of the men on that list are still living, but it does not appear anyone besides Brignac has faced prosecution.
Thursday is not the first time Brignac has faced a sex abuse trial.
He was tried in Jefferson Parish on charges that he molested boys at St. Matthew the Apostle in the 1970s, prior to his stint at Our Lady of the Rosary. He won an acquittal.
In 1980 and 1988, New Orleans police arrested him on similar allegations. Yet prosecutors declined to pursue charges in either case, though Brignac was removed from the ministry after the second arrest.
Despite Brignac’s ouster from the diaconate, then-Archbishop Philip Hannan sent an effusive letter to his defense attorney after the dismissal of the 1988 charge. Hannan said the lawyer did “excellent work” and provided “wonderful support” to “Deacon Brignac,” a copy of the letter shows.
Some archdiocesan officials later tried to get Brignac reinstated to his post. But Archbishop Francis Schulte — Hannan’s successor — overruled those efforts.