The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn has agreed to pay $27.5 million to end a lawsuit filed by four adult victims who claim they were abused by a religious teacher from the church as children. The settlement, reached on Tuesday September 19th, is one of the largest settlement awards for individual sexual abuse victims by the church in history.
According to victims’ claims, former religious education director Angelo Serrano repeatedly abused students of his catechism classes at St. Lucy’s – St. Patrick’s Church in Brooklyn between 2003 and 2009, when the victims were between the ages of 8 and 12. A lawsuit filed by the victims claims that abuse occurred within the church, an affiliated after-school program, and Serrano’s apartment located in a building behind the church. After one of the victims reported the abuse to a family member in 2009, Serrano was arrested and later pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual conduct charges. He is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence.
Prior to settling the lawsuit, the Diocese had disputed their liability, claiming that Serrano was not an employee, but rather a volunteer, despite the fact that he had a desk on church property and received a stipend for his leadership of the education department. A judge overseeing the case sided with the victims in allowing the lawsuit, not only because of the stipend and Serrano’s role, but also because church staff ignored clear warning signs of abuse and failed to report Serrano.
Sexual Abuse Lawsuits: A Shifting Tide
The settlement against the Brooklyn Diocese comes at a pivotal time. Today, increasing awareness of sexual assault and abuse has led to the creation of powerful activism efforts such as the Me Too movement and widespread coverage in the media, including recent reports of a Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal and cover-up in Pennsylvania spanning decades, and a heightened focus on sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Stepping forward against wrongdoers is not an easy task, which is why sexual abuse is historically and so overwhelming underreported. However, it is one of the most courageous acts a victim can do, not only for their own pursuit of justice, but also to ensure accountability, prompt needed change, and protect others from becoming victims. This is why these types of cases, although tragic and sometimes difficult to discuss, are so crucial to shifting the tides in the fight against sexual violence, and furthering the rights of victims.
CSCS: Our Commitment to Victims of Sexual Abuse & Assault
Our legal team at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. is passionate about protecting the rights of sexual assault and sexual abuse victims as they navigate the legal pathways toward the justice and compensation they deserve. By leveraging our experience, resources, and unwavering commitment to clients, we have proven our abilities in tackling challenging matters involving sexual assault and sexual abuse, including cases involving abuse committed by religious leaders and individuals in positions of authority and trust, and cases where abuse was allowed to persist due to the failures, complicity, and willful conduct those in a position to take meaningful action. This includes our representation of clients victimized by Georgetown Rabbi Bernard Freundel and several women who brought claims against Bill Cosby.
Though offenders like these may often have their day in criminal court, it is important to note that victims will still need to take legal action in the civil justice system in order to recover the compensation they deserve, and in some cases hold other individuals, entities, and corporations accountable for their actions and failures to prevent or stop abuse. Civil sexual assault and sexual abuse lawsuits are challenging and emotional matters, but they can be handled effectively with the support of caring, compassionate, and experienced attorneys who fight for the best possible results.
If you have questions about our firm and the legal services we provide, or if you wish to discuss a potential case confidentially with a member of our team, please call (202) 659-8600 or contact us online for a free consultation. Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. serves clients throughout Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC.