St. Francis Prep leads Queens, Brooklyn in child sex abuse lawsuits: Report

St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows. (File photo from REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

More child sex abuse lawsuits were filed against St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows than any other Catholic school in the Diocese of Brooklyn since the passage of the state’s Child Victims Act in 2019 through the end of 2020, according to a recent analysis.

In the past two years, nearly 600 child sex abuse lawsuits have been filed against the Diocese, which covers Brooklyn and Queens.

The institutions with the most lawsuits are predominantly in Queens, including St. Francis Prep, which counts 21 lawsuits against nine perpetrators for abuse that allegedly happened between 1959 and 2001.

The 571 complaints filed against the Diocese during the first 17 months of the act includes filings against 532 institutions under control of the religious district and 301 alleged abusers. Of those alleged abusers are 230 members of the clergy, according to a report published Tuesday by the legal firm Jeff Anderson and Associates, which represents 127 plaintiffs in the two boroughs.

“To every survivor that has come forward and every survivor that does: It’s an act of courage and we’re grateful to you, knowing that you have made a difference in protecting kids in the future and in helping other survivors come forward and share their secret, get help, and have hope and bring healing,” said the company’s attorney Jeff Anderson in a virtual press conference April 6.

The most lawsuits under the act were against defrocked priest Romano Ferraro, who has amassed 18 lawsuits against him stemming from 1958-1991. The New York Times once called him one of the most “prolific priest pedophiles on the Eastern Seaboard.”

Among the Brooklyn organizations with high case counts is the Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School on Clermont Avenue, which counts seven lawsuits. Five of them involve the late priest George Zatarga, who was accused of grooming and sexually abusing boys at the Clinton Hill institution, according to court filings. Zatarga died in 2011.

Another concentration of cases involve Nazareth Regional High School in East Flatbush, where there were six lawsuits covering abuse from 1973-1998.

One former coach at the E. 57th Street private school, Robert Mistretta, was charged with sexually abusing children in the 1980s, according to court filings.

The Child Victims Act was enacted in August 2019 and allows victims who were abused as minors a one-year “look back window” to circumvent statute of limitations restrictions and file lawsuits against their abusers — regardless of when the abuse occurred.

Due to COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the window for another year until Aug. 14 of this year.

The Brooklyn Diocese accounts for almost one-fifth of the 2,801 cases filed statewide through Dec. 31, 2020, according to the law firm, which has yet to include cases from the new year.

Anderson said there are likely many more people who have yet to file charges against their abusers.

“There is no question based on the data that we have assembled of survivors that have come forward so far that this is still a fraction of those that will,” he said.

His company compiled an online database where people can search filed lawsuits by diocese or by perpetrator, which the lawyers hope will encourage more victims to come forward over the coming four months.

“I expect and hope that every survivor gets the word and gets the chance to have a voice and honor that truth does come forward and get the help and know that there’s a chance and a better day,” Anderson said.

In response to the report, Diocese spokesman John Quaglione provided the following statement:

“The Diocese of Brooklyn takes each of these complaints seriously and cooperates fully with any and all law enforcement investigations. Most of these allegations are from decades ago, which does not negate the fact that the accused has the right to due process under the law. We pray for all victims of sexual abuse that they may be able to further heal and be strengthened by God’s love for them.”

This story originally appeared on our sister site BrooklynPaper.com