Last weekend, a parishioner pulled up to St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church but drove away before walking into the sanctuary.
The woman decided not to attend Mass, she said, because she could no longer stomach the sight of George F. Brignac, a defrocked deacon who as recently as last month served as a lector at the Metairie church — reading Scripture and announcements — despite years of sexual abuse allegations that prompted his removal from the ministry in 1988.
Brignac, 83, remained in this public role even after the Archdiocese of New Orleans this spring quietly paid more than $500,000 to settle claims that he repeatedly raped an 8-year-old altar boy at Holy Rosary School more than three decades ago.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond insisted recently that Brignac’s fall from grace had been “very public” and, while not covered by the media, was widely known among church leaders in the 1980s. But it has become increasingly clear that some people didn’t get the memo — or that his defrocking was blatantly disregarded.
Just last month, Brignac stood at a Mass and performed a liturgical ministry in the presence of children, less than three miles from one of the schools where some of his alleged crimes occurred.
“I was outraged that he was still allowed to serve in any capacity in the church,” the St. Mary Magdalen parishioner said, speaking on the condition that her name not be printed. “This is a betrayal. They are not protecting the flock — or our kids.”
An archdiocese spokeswoman, Sarah McDonald, said its leaders were not made aware of Brignac’s role at St. Mary Magdalen until Aymond distributed a letter last month alerting parishioners of the latest sexual abuse allegations against Brignac — a notification the church did not make until two days after The New Orleans Advocate reported on the related six-figure settlement. The story was published about six weeks after the settlement.
“They asked me if I could read at the Mass — I didn’t do anything other than that,” Brignac said. “I’m a Catholic, and I’ve been close to the church all my life. God is paramount in my life, and everything I’ve done is to help people get closer to God.”
Brignac did not deny touching young boys — “I would not have gone into teaching if I were not attracted to children” — but insisted he never did it “for immoral purposes.” He said a psychologist who treated him years ago determined that he was “asexual.”
“Any actions of intimacy between my students and me — and family and me — have no sexual motive,” Brignac said during a 20-minute interview. “I’m not going to deny that I have touched a child.”
Read the whole thing. It turns out that in 1980, a police investigation into Brignac was handled by a detective who himself was later exposed and imprisoned as a child predator.
Oh, and get this, from today’s story:
For his part, Brignac said he wishes the alleged victims — and the church — would just “let this die.” He said the mounting allegations are nothing more than a “misinterpretation of my conduct.”
He said the recent news coverage has “ruined” his life and made him afraid to answer the door or venture outside.
“I can’t control the world today,” Brignac said. “These kind of things were not even thought of 25 years ago. They started all that stuff about same-sex marriages, homosexual marriages and all that kind of stupidity. Now it’s coming to attacking the morals of people who are working with young people.”
The elderly child molester is blaming gays for his troubles. Unbelievable. But all too believable.
How can any Catholic parent trust that the institutional Church with the safety of their children? There was a policy in place that should have sidelined Brignac — but it was ignored.
But next time, they’ll get it right, no doubt…
It has been said that a sure sign of corruption is the ability of an institution to recognize its problems, but not to be able to solve them. I am reminded of this passage from the Roman historian Livy, writing at the beginning of the Christian era about the decline of the Republic into Empire:
Here are the questions to which I would have every reader give his close attention —what life and morals were like; through what men and by what policies, in peace and in war, empire was established and enlarged; then let him note how, with the gradual relaxation of discipline, morals first gave way, as it were, then sank lower and lower, and finally began the downward plunge which has brought us to the present time, when we can endure neither our vices nor their cure. [Emphasis mine — RD]
People need the Church more than ever in this post-Christian — increasingly anti-Christian — age, but its leadership in far too many cases is destroying its own credibility. And for what? Who benefits? Seriously, it is a profound mystery. I get who benefits by hiding Uncle Ted’s sexual exploitation, but who benefits from protecting an elderly layman who was defrocked for molesting children?
UPDATE: Unless Brignac knows things that it wouldn’t be convenient for many in the Archdiocesan administration to have revealed, hence keeping him protected and happy. That’s the only reason that makes sense to me. By the way, before some of the usual suspects accuse me of going trolling for stories like this, let me point out that this is big news in south Louisiana this morning.
UPDATE.2: Reader Thomas:
Thank you for posting this, Rod. I read this piece with disbelief this morning, shocked that this man, arrested at least three times and who admits he touched children (but it didn’t mean anything because he is asexual) was still allowed an official role in the Church. As a faithful Catholic and father of three young children, I am at a loss of what to do as a member of a laity. I am not going to leave, but how am I supposed to raise my children in a world full of corruption and filth when the institution defending the Truth does stuff like this?
When will the bishops and parish priests start caring more for Catholics like this reader and his children than they do about enabling perverts like Brignac?
UPDATE.3: Erin Manning:
Justin Katz, I’d like to offer some context for why people are outraged about this, above and beyond the reality that this man seems unrepentant.
I sing in the choir at a small mission church. Our church has just changed from a former child safety program to the one that is run by Virtus (which I think is connected to the USCCB). Every single lay volunteer in the parish must, when our current safety training “expires” (once every three years), take part in a three-hour class covering child sexual abuse: how to spot it, how to report it, what rules are in place to combat it including the “two adults at all times” rules for people with direct contact with children, and so on. We must also give signed permission for the diocese to run a criminal background check on us, provide the names and addresses of a certain number of non-family references, and give all sorts of personal information.
Note well: this is a REQUIREMENT not only for church employment but for all volunteers. You cannot volunteer in any capacity whatsoever in our diocese without taking part in this process, and then renewing the training every three years (and I do hope they will eventually bring back the online option for renewal, because even though it still require a couple hours of watching videos and completing tests based on the videos, and all the forms and paperwork previously mentioned, it is still less difficult than finding an open live three-hour class on a date and at a time you can actually attend).
Again, please note: this is not just for “ministries” that actually involve children, like religious education or altar servers or youth choirs. This is for EVERYBODY who works or volunteers in any way. One parish I know of took it to such extremes that they required parents delivering baked goods for school bake sales to take the full 3-hour class complete with background check (and we’re talking about people dropping off baked goods at a selling location, not people actually doing the selling). Lectors, cantors, EMHCs, ushers, lawn care volunteers–every single person who works as an employee or volunteer in any capacity whatsoever on parish property MUST take this training.
And if anything “pops” in your record, if there are any red flags indicating you’ve ever had a problem with children, if you have a criminal past of any kind, the way the system is supposed to work is that you’re supposed to get a nice, polite, “Thanks, but you don’t qualify for ministry at St. Whatever Parish at this time,” and that’s that.
It’s not because repentant ex-cons can’t be valuable members of a parish, nor is it because volunteering is some kind of prize for the holy (it’s more like working off purgatory a bit early, if you ask me, but that’s another matter). Rather, it’s because in the wake of the Scandal the local dioceses reexamined their practices and policies and decided that it’s more important not to get sued than it is to let some guy convicted of accounting fraud serve on the Parish Finance Committee, even if he’s totally cool with “Thou Shalt Not Steal” now after serving his sentence and whatnot.
And this goes, or should go, double, triple, and quadruple for anybody ever associated with an offense against children. Unlike repentant ex-cons, the number of pedophiles and ephebophiles who actually stop abusing children (apart from during incarceration) is vanishingly small. The elephant in the room at child safety training is that by and large it’s not the average lay lectors we have to worry about, but when a lector is an ex-deacon with a kiddie touching problem there is NO excuse whatsoever for giving him a pass while telling Grandma she’s got to go to another three hour class and sign her background check papers for the eighth time in her long years of parish service during which time she’s never had anything worse than a speeding ticket because she was late for Mass on Daylight Savings Time Sunday two years ago.
In a word, when parish volunteers by the scores who have never and will never harm a child in any way, shape, or form must go through a labyrinthine path of classes and paperwork for the “privilege” of showing up every Sunday to do unpaid work for the parish, it is beyond galling that this gentleman’s atrocious record and present state of arrogant unrepentance gets, apparently, a pass. And if the argument was that maybe the old pastor knew about it but let it go, but the new one doesn’t–well, maybe we do things a bit differently in Texas, but in most places I’ve heard of the “every three years” renewal for the whole safety training-background check thing has become pretty standard, with an “every five years” alternate in some locations that have particular difficulty with the other schedule (I’m thinking remote dioceses with few parishes, maybe).
This simply should not have happened, and the more often it does, the more often the laity throw up their hands and say, “Why am I bothering to go to a three hour class and fill out all this paperwork every three years, when clergy (and ex-clergy) can show up and do anything they want with no repercussions, even when they fail to meet the criteria the rest of us have to meet before we’ll even be permitted to water the altar flowers or sweep the floors?”