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NEW YORK (ChurchMilitant.com) - The diocese of Brooklyn is paying out millions of parishioner dollars to settle additional claims of sex abuse.
On Tuesday, the diocese announced it had agreed to a $27.5 million settlement for complaints filed by four young men who allege that between 2003 and 2009, when they were between the ages of eight and 12, they were sexually assaulted by Angelo Serrano, a lay catechism teacher and summer camp volunteer at St. Lucy's-St. Patrick's Church in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Clinton Hill.
According to victims' attorneys, Serrano molested the victims inside the church and at his apartment, located next door in the former parish school building.
After one of the boys told his mother about the abuse, police launched an investigation, and in September 2009, Serrano pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual conduct. He is now serving a 15-year sentence at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, New York.
The abused filed suit against the diocese in 2013, seeking punitive damages; with the case set to go to trial, diocesan officials elected to settle on Tuesday.
The two pastors in residence at St. Lucy's-St. Patrick's at the time, Fr. Stephen P. Lynch and Fr. Frank Shannon, were named as co-defendants in the suit, accused of ignoring clear warning signs surrounding Serrano's behavior.
"The record is clear that Lynch and Shannon had knowledge that for years Serrano often had several boys ... sleep over at his apartment," Judge Loren Baily-Schiffman wrote. "In fact, both Lynch and Shannon testified that they visited Serrano on numerous occasions when young boys were present."
"The record in this case at bar is replete with evidence of Serrano's inappropriate behavior with sexual implications that continued for years even after he was told to stop," she added.
In a comment to The New York Daily News, Lynch admitted seeing Serrano hug children inappropriately on a few occasions but claimed ignorance of the abuse.
"Apparently he was a very sick person. I guess a lot of signals were missed, unfortunately, probably by myself and others," Lynch said. "I'm terribly saddened. If there was anything I could do, or think of to make amends or help (the boys) or heal them I would certainly be most anxious to do that."
In his deposition, Lynch also testified he witnessed Serrano kissing a young boy on the lips, but when asked about the incident by the Daily News, the priest pledged ignorance.
"I don't have a memory of that at all," he claimed.
Church secretary Beatrice Ponnelle confirmed Serrano's predatory behavior, noting in her testimony that boys as young as seven or eight were seen in his office doing homework while sitting on Serrano's lap.
In fighting the allegations against it, the diocese argued it was not responsible for the abuse, owing to the fact that Serrano was a volunteer. But victims' attorneys refuted this assertion, noting that Serrano was paid a church stipend and worked from an office on church property.
Even so, in announcing the settlement Tuesday, the diocese sought to minimize its responsibility: "Mr. Serrano was a volunteer worker at a local parish," it said in its statement, "he was not clergy or an employee of the diocese or parish."
Church-watchers are pointing out that according to many U.S. bishops, VIRTUS training supposedly solved the problem of sexual abuse. Associates of St. Lucy's-St. Patrick's Church took part in special training to recognize sexual abuse in 2002, five years into Serrano's tenure with the parish, and a year before he began abusing the four boys.
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