Forgive Me, Father, For I Have Searched the County Clerk’s Records

By: Carrie Monahan

I knew the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York had been selling its properties to developers across the city. Why were those sales happening? I also knew that the archdiocese has paid out almost $60 million since 2016 in damages to victims of sexual abuse by clergy. Was the giant Catholic real-estate sell-off all about covering the financial damage of the clerical sex abuse allegations?

To investigate, I started with the archdiocese archives in Yonkers, but had no luck scheduling an appointment. The archivist told me most of the collections were “closed due to the ongoing attorney-general investigation” and the archive had no property deeds available for my viewing.

Frustrated, I turned to Kiley Roache—a friend, classmate, and lapsed Catholic—who suggested the New York County Clerk and Supreme Court records. A search on the database revealed 44 files related to the Archdiocese of New York. I wrote down all 44 file numbers, headed down to the New York State Supreme Court on Centre Street in lower Manhattan and started digging.

I couldn’t limit my search based on subject matter, so I ended up looking through several suits filed by people who had fallen down stairs or tripped on sidewalks at church properties owned by the archdiocese. Three of the files were archdiocese petitions for property sales and mortgages, transactions for which non-profits in New York State require court approval. I had already known about one—a $100 million mortgage from J.P. Morgan for the church-owned land beneath the Lotte New York Palace Hotel. In February 2017, The New York Times reported that the purpose of the mortgage was to finance a sex abuse fund known as the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. But I couldn’t find any mention of the fund in the file. The Times reporter had confirmed the mortgage’s purpose by speaking with an archdiocese representative. 

But how could I find if other property sales were funding the compensation program? I found that in 2013, the archdiocese sold a house on Staten Island for just under half a million dollars. Why did the archdiocese own this house? It’s near the Society of St. Paul and the Holy Family Roman Catholic Church. Might this have once been a house for clergy members? 

Even more curiously, why did the archdiocese own a 7-bedroom, 4-bath townhouse on the Upper West Side? It sold the property in 2017 for $5.5 million to a mysterious company called “MATLA, LLC.” All I could find about “MATLA” on the Internet was a “business services” company based in Weston, Fla. The document says the petitioner (i.e. the Archdiocese of New York) “believes that said terms of sale are fair and reasonable to Petitioner to carry on its proper corporate religious activities and purposes.” There was no way to tell which “activities and purposes” the sale would fund. 

The strangest file I came across involved a lawsuit from 2015 seeking “to rectify a decade-long million dollar embezzlement scheme by a Roman Catholic pastor in New York: Father Peter Miqueli.” The plaintiffs – parishioners at St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Church on Roosevelt Island and St. Frances de Chantal Church in the Bronx – sued Miqueli, “known and protected by his employer, the Archdiocese of New York,” for using “his position of trust and confidence as a pastor” to embezzle donations from parishioners on Roosevelt Island and in the Bronx. Allegedly, Miqueli had used the donations “to grow his personal wealth, purchase a house in New Jersey, take dozens of international vacations, purchase and use illegal drugs, and pay for the weekly services of his homosexual prostitute and ‘sex master’ Keith Crist.” All that was on file was the summons and complaint document from three years ago. I wondered why the case hadn’t seemed to progress since then.

I found two cases involving alleged sexual abuse at the hands of clergy members: Maureen Nysewander v. James McLucas et al. (2012) and John Doe v. Our Lady of Pompeii School et al. In Nysewander, the plaintiff claimed she had been sexually abused, attacked, and harassed by Father James McLucas, an employee of the Archdiocese of New York serving as a pastor in Pennsylvania, between 2007 and 2009. Nysewander’s lawyer argued that the archdiocese had failed to adequately investigate and monitor the priest. The defense team had initially “respectfully requested that the plaintiff’s claims against Fr. McLucas be dismissed.” McLucas’s lawyers argued that the one-year statute of limitations “applicable to intentional torts” was applicable to Nysewander’s claim of negligence on the part of both McLucas and the archdiocese.

I saw no ruling on that argument. But the defendant eventually agreed to a “verbal settlement,” according to letters from both the plaintiff and the defendant’s attorneys, dated Sept. 11, 2013. Was the settlement monetary? If so, for how much? Nowhere in the file was there any indication of how much Nysewander received. And just how binding would this “verbal settlement” have been? The letter from McLucas’s lawyer read, “a settlement of this action has been entered by the parties in principle, and that the parties intend to file a Stipulation of Discontinuance once such settlement is finalized.” By Sept. 20, 2013, the suit, according to a handwritten note on a Supreme Court of the State of New York memo, had been “withdrawn as moot as this matter has settled.”

The second case, still underway, involves allegations of abuse by a teacher at a Catholic school on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. The victim was thirteen years old at the time, and “has been and will be prevented and/or delayed from getting a college degree and/or beginning a career” as a result of physical and psychological trauma, the plaintiff’s lawyers argue. The teacher still works at the school, according to its website’s faculty directory. 

Will “John Doe” receive money from the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program? And where will that money have come from?

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