The New Yorker
Acts Of Penance Image Credit: The New Yorker
Acts Of Penance Image Credit: The New Yorker

Acts Of Penance

Will outside arbiters correct the Church’s history of abuse or enable its legacy of evasion?

Paul Elie

Some time before Brooklyn was incorporated into New York City, in 1898, it was dubbed the City of Churches. Houses of worship remain thick on the ground in the borough. In the part of Brooklyn where I live, churches outnumber grocery stores, pet shops, and nail salons together. There’s the Institutional Church of God in Christ (red brick, stained glass) and the Revelation Church of God in Christ (a converted movie theatre); the French- Speaking Baptist Church, founded by Haitian immigrants; the Zion Shiloh Baptist Church, whose members come from all over the metropolitan area, parking their cars in a long row; and the Ileri Oluwa Parish, where congregants of Nigerian descent worship shoeless and in long white robes. And there are the Catholic places. Queen of All Saints Church and Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School face each other across Lafayette Avenue. Up the hill is the walled-in motherhouse of the Sisters of Mercy; down the hill is the old church of St. Boniface, now the home of a community called the Brooklyn Oratory, where I go to Mass on Sundays.

A few blocks away is St. Lucy– St. Patrick Church, on Willoughby Avenue. Over six years, beginning in 2003, Angelo Serrano, a religious educator at the church, sexually abused four boys. He raped or molested them in the church’s offices and at his apartment, in a brick schoolhouse converted to lowcost housing by Catholic Charities. Eventually, one of the boys told his mother, who told the police.

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