Nun tells how ‘fixer’ for Brook­lyn dio­cese cleaned up kid-priest sex cases

New York Daily News - - NEWS - BY NANCY DIL­LON AND DAN GOOD With Linda Stasi and Molly Crane-New­man Any­one wish­ing to re­port a con­fi­den­tial tip re­gard­ing child sex abuse to the Daily News can email child­vic­tim­s­[email protected]­dai­lynews.com or call 212-210-1528.

She calls him her “neme­sis” and the “fixer” of the Dio­cese of Brook­lyn — and she’s not sur­prised by a new al­le­ga­tion he too was a preda­tory priest.

Sis­ter Sally But­ler, a long­time Brook­lyn nun, says Queens-based Msgr. Otto Gar­cia per­son­ally cov­ered up mul­ti­ple sex abuse com­plaints in­volv­ing other priests while serv­ing in high-rank­ing po­si­tions un­der Bishop Thomas Daily.

She brought for­ward three cases to the dio­cese, she said, so hear­ing this week he’s now fac­ing the first pub­lic al­le­ga­tion he per­son­ally mo­lested an ado­les­cent boy in the early 1970s was hardly a shock.

“He was the Michael Co­hen of the dio­cese. He was the ‘fixer.’ He seemed to be a to­tally amoral per­son,” she said of Gar­cia, com­par­ing him to the dis­graced lawyer who pleaded guilty last year to il­le­gally fun­nel­ing money to cover up al­leged af­fairs in­volv­ing Pres­i­dent Trump.

But­ler spoke out af­ter Queens res­i­dent Thomas Davis told the Daily News in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view that Gar­cia sex­u­ally as­saulted him mul­ti­ple times when he was a mi­nor work­ing in the rec­tory at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Flush­ing between 1973 and 1975.

Gar­cia de­nied the al­le­ga­tions to The News, claim­ing he barely knew Davis. “I had so lit­tle con­tact with him that I didn’t know him at all,” he said.

The Brook­lyn Dio­cese re­leased the names Fri­day of 108 priests cred­i­bly ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct. Gar­cia was one of two priests listed sep­a­rately who had an al­le­ga­tion against him that was deemed “un­sub­stan­ti­ated.”

For­mer Queens res­i­dent Bob Burns said hear­ing the new al­le­ga­tion against Gar­cia made him “feel vi­o­lated again.”

“I’m just pissed off. I’m an­gry,” he told The News. “I wish I was shocked. I al­ways had is­sues with (Gar­cia). He was the clean-up man.”

Burns, 59, said he was sent to Gar­cia in 1993 af­ter re­port­ing to the church he’d been sex­u­ally as­saulted by the Rev. Thomas O’Rourke when he was 14 years old in the sum­mer of 1974.

He said Gar­cia col­lected all his in­for­ma­tion then helped cover up the en­tire case, clear­ing the way for O’Rourke, af­ter some al­leged coun­sel­ing, to re­turn to min­istry as pas­tor at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Brook­lyn.

“They be­lieved him, not me. Gar­cia ba­si­cally said, ‘We trust him. He’s a priest,’” he re­called.

“I’m hav­ing a vis­ceral re­ac­tion,” Burns said while dis­cussing Davis’ al­le­ga­tion. “The per­son I went to for help was as bad as the per­son I wanted to get away from. The sys­temic cover-up just seems to go deeper and deeper. I still have faith, but I don’t have it in the Catholic church any­more.”

Both Burns and But­ler, 83, said they don’t know Davis per­son­ally but be­lieve his al­le­ga­tion against Gar­cia.

“I would have no rea­son to think Mr. Davis is not telling the truth. Why on earth put your­self through that?” Burns said in a phone in­ter­view.

Burns — a mar­ried dad now liv­ing in Mary­land — said Gar­cia per­son­ally told him back in 1993 that O’Rourke ad­mit­ted grop­ing him when con­fronted with the al­le­ga­tion. Still, Gar­cia let it slide.

“O’Rourke claimed it was more of a fondling in­ci­dent and that I was the only one — that it had never hap­pened any other time,” Burns re­called. “Gar­cia said they told O’Rourke not to make any con­tact with me and that they were go­ing to send him to St. Luke’s in Mary­land for treat­ment.”

Burns said he was adamant that O’Rourke was ly­ing.

“(O’Rourke) said it was just fondling, but it was ag­gres­sive, al­most to the point of a vi­o­lent sex­ual as­sault. This wasn’t a sit­u­a­tion where he put his hand in the wrong place. It was pre­med­i­tated,” he said.

Burns said he told Gar­cia the ex­plicit de­tails of his case. Gar­cia heard how O’Rourke groomed Burns over a pe­riod of months and even­tu­ally drove him to visit the Naval Academy in An­napo­lis that sum­mer in 1974, tak­ing a strange de­tour on the drive home that re­quired them to spend an un­planned night to­gether in a Chevy Chase ho­tel — in a room that he said had only one bed.

“My spidey-senses started to go off, but I wasn’t smart enough to know what was go­ing on,” he re­called.

Burns said when he emerged from the bath­room at one point, O’Rourke had stripped to his box­ers. The priest then be­gan of­fer­ing him sur­prise gifts he bought at the Naval Academy, he said.

“Then the as­sault oc­curred,” Burns said. “By a med­i­cal def­i­ni­tion, there was no pen­e­tra­tion, but it was an ag­gres­sive, over­pow­er­ing, vi­o­lent as­sault. He fin­ishes up, pats me on the back and goes to sleep.”

Burns said he crawled out of the bed and spent the rest of the night locked in the bath­room.

“I was phys­i­cally ill. I could barely talk,” he said. It took him many years be­fore he could tell any­one what hap­pened, much less take his story to the church.

O’Rourke, who died in 1998, was later ac­cused in a law­suit of re­peat­edly sex­u­ally abus­ing an al­tar boy at Cor­pus Christi Church in Wood­side, where he worked in the 1960s.

Gar­cia — who would not talk about his role in han­dling sex abuse al­le­ga­tions within the dio­cese dur­ing a re­cent phone in­ter­view — pre­vi­ously con­firmed that O’Rourke ad­mit­ted to abus­ing Burns.

“It was very trou­bling for him. He rec­og­nized the ef­fect it had on some­one who trusted him,” Gar­cia told Catholic Stan­dard in 2002.

Burns joined a 2003 law­suit filed by dozens of vic­tims, but the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for his claim had run out. He even­tu­ally ac­cepted a set­tle­ment. He can’t sue again, but he is free to talk about his ex­pe­ri­ence.

But­ler, mean­while, told The News she was one of three nuns who reached out to dio­cese brass in 1996 and re­ported that three priests sex­u­ally mo­lested ado­les­cent boys in a Brook­lyn parish in the mid 1970’s.

One of the boys was Car­los Cruz, an or­phan par­tially raised by But­ler who con­fided in her that the Rev. An­thony Failla mo­lested him 20 years prior at St. MichaelSt. Ed­ward’s in Fort Greene.

But­ler said Gar­cia was in charge of the in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­volv­ing the three priests. She said Gar­cia never no­ti­fied po­lice and al­lowed Failla to qui­etly move to Florida. Failla died last year.

Gar­cia de­fended the dio­cese’s han­dling of Failla and other abu­sive priests in a 2002 New York Times in­ter­view.

“When we dis­cov­ered that there were some al­le­ga­tions with cred­i­bil­ity, to the best of our abil­ity, we in­ves­ti­gated them and we took ac­tion,” Gar­cia said in the Times.

But­ler said an­other of the three priests in­volved in the com­plaints was the Rev. Brian Callahan, who died in 2003.

She de­scribed go­ing with the two other nuns to meet with Gar­cia and his lawyers at the Chancery to dis­cuss the com­plaints — but she said they only re­ceived lip ser­vice.

“He dis­missed us as unim­por­tant. He told us it would be taken care of. He said that to ev­ery­body,” she said.

She said Cruz, who even­tu­ally moved to Sch­enec­tady and lived with his wife and chil­dren there be­fore his death in 2015, “hated” Gar­cia for his han­dling of the sit­u­a­tion.

The nun, who still lives in Fort Greene, said she hopes Davis gets a more thor­ough hear­ing of his griev­ances and a shot at some form of jus­tice.

“I hope he can see it through. I want him to do it for Car­los, too,” she said.

“Car­los died of a mas­sive heart at­tack af­ter years of flash­backs and panic at­tacks and God knows what else,” she said.

“I know he would have had a dif­fer­ent life (without the abuse),” she said. “He was a very bright kid. I’m grate­ful for hav­ing known him.”

Thomas Davis (left) says he was abused in the 1970s by Msgr. Otto Gar­cia (right) at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Flush­ing (below right).

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