Tom Davis shares his truth about sexual abuse by Msgr. Otto Garcia at St. Michael's in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
2/14/2019 6:41:00 PM
Monsignor Otto Garcia was tasked with handling pedophile priests in the Brooklyn Diocese — but now a man is accusing him of abuse
A Queens man claims he endured sexual abuse by a priest — now a monsignor — who would later be accused of concealing the sins of pedophile priests in the Brooklyn Diocese.
For more than four decades, Tommy Davis says, he carried the secret that he’d been repeatedly sexually abused as a teen by Monsignor Otto Garcia.
And Davis says his shame caused him to fall into drugs, alcoholism and ruined relationships before he got sober. It took him decades to tell his story, only to be ignored by the law and rebuffed by the church after the diocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) found that there was “insufficient support” to find his claim eligible for compensation.
Garcia denies all of Davis’ accusations.
With the passage of the Child Victims Act in New York State — which was signed into law by Gov. Cuomo Thursday — Davis and other alleged sex abuse victims are hoping for another chance at finally getting divine justice.
But it was a long time coming.
Davis told The News in painful, wrenching interviews and emails over the course of six months that his sexual abuse began when he was a teenage altar boy at St. Michael’s Church in Flushing, Queens. He remembers how happy his parents, devoted parishioners, were when they got the news that he had secured a job answering phones in the rectory after the secretaries left at 5 p.m.
Tommy says that his mother, a fifth-grade teacher at St. Michael’s parish school, and his father, a parish basketball team coach, knew he’d be in good hands because the family was tied into the church. There, Father Garcia would be on duty to watch the boy.
And watch him he did, claims Davis. On nights when Garcia was the duty priest on call at the rectory, Davis said, Garcia would wait “’till no one else was around to come visit me.”
Davis alleges that he suffered hellish sexual abuse during the years Garcia, on his first-ever assignment, was at St. Michael’s between 1973 and 1975 — at the hands of Garcia, who later rose to the rank of the Brooklyn Diocese’s moderator of the Curia, and vicar general overseeing the pedophile priest cases for the Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens. Davis was in his early to mid-teens at the time.
Davis claimed, while choking back tears, that Garcia would stop in the rectory at night when he was alone.
“He would start with, ‘You look tense, let me rub your back.’ Then he’d say, ‘Let me rub lower, stand up.’ He’d make me stand up, he’d put his hands under my shirt and try to get under my pants. Then he would start grinding me from behind and rub my nipples. I was terrified,” Davis said.
“I would push back from the desk and tell him to stop. I didn’t know what to do. It happened 10 or 15 times. I tried to arrange my schedule to not be there when he was there, so I’d never be alone with him. He knew who he could abuse, who wouldn’t tell. I was so scared.
“He was bigger than me, he’d use physical force to keep me trapped (at the desk), rubbing his groin against me with an up and down movement. Each time he did it he’d get a bigger erection, which completely freaked me out. He’d see how far he could go.”
Monsignor Garcia — who has no other allegations against him— denied all of Davis’ claims to The News during a conference call which included his defense attorney, Dino Amoroso, (previously a deputy district attorney in the Brooklyn DA’s office, and political candidate), and a crisis manager, Jerry Schmetterer.
Garcia says he never abused the boy and said he was surprised when the allegations arose all those years later in 2017. When asked if perhaps Davis had misinterpreted the contact, and whether any other touching ever took place, Monsignor Garcia said, “Not that I recall. Nothing.” When asked if there was ever even an informal complaint about him, he said, “No, no never!” In fact, he said, “I had so little contact with him that I didn’t know him at all,” stating that he didn’t believe Davis ever even worked in the rectory.
A rectory secretary, however, who still works at St. Michael’s confirmed to The News that Tommy Davis did in fact work there.
In addition to Davis’ parents teaching and coaching at the parish school, they were also active members of the parish’s Rosary and Holy Name societies when Garcia was there.
That was one reason that, at the time of the alleged abuse, Davis says he couldn’t tell his parents, his friends and he couldn’t tell his “uncle” Rev. John C. Mulqueen, an extended family member who worked alongside Garcia at St. Michael’s. And he couldn’t quit his after-school job at the rectory, either. His parents were too proud of him for working there.
Davis says he finally broke free of the alleged abuse when he got a job bagging groceries at the local supermarket. It gave him the excuse he so badly needed to quit.
Davis’ family, unaware of the abuse, continued to hold Garcia in high esteem, according to Tommy and his younger brother, who wishes not to be named in this report.
They say their family visited Garcia during the late 1970s when he was stationed at the Vatican in Rome, and Tommy also claims the family later visited with him in Florida.
Tommy says he declined to go with his family to Rome because he wanted to avoid any contact with Garcia.
Garcia tells a different story.
“Honestly I barely knew him, and the same with his family.” Garcia said. “I only went to their house once because they were going to Rome and they wanted to get some information from me. But I don’t think that they ever visited me in Rome.”
Davis didn’t come forward earlier, he says, because his parents were still alive and because of Garcia’s incredible power within the church.
“I was scared,” he said, “I was just a kid, and he was a very important man. He comes from a very wealthy and influential Cuban family. I was a perfect victim, and he was the perfect predator. He knew I couldn’t tell anybody what was happening to me.”
In 1995 he confessed his secret to his sister, begging her not to tell their mother. A few years ago, he also told his son, a federal agent. Davis’ sister and son both confirmed that he had shared his story in the manner he described.
It wasn’t until 2016 that he told a lawyer — about a year before the diocese announced the reconciliation and compensation program.
While Garcia has not been previously accused of sexual abuse, he has faced numerous accusations that he helped to cover up misconduct in the diocese.
A 2003 lawsuit alleged that Garcia “knew of the acts of sexual abuse” by other priests and “was part of the concerted effort to fraudulently conceal their acts from the plaintiffs and parishioners in the parish churches in the diocese.” The case was eventually dismissed because the statute of limitations had run out.
When dozens of child sexual abuse cases were exposed in the Diocese of Brooklyn in the early 2000s, it was Garcia — first as chancellor, then as vicar general — who helped to wash the cases away, steering cases forward that could not be prosecuted, downplaying the church’s role in curtailing abuse, and in some cases, encouraging abusive priests to continue their ministry elsewhere after they received treatment, according to previous reports and people who came forward to report abuse.
Garcia was tasked with meeting with alleged victims and confronting abusive priests, making recommendations to Bishop Thomas Daily, whose earlier failures to address pedophile priests in the Diocese of Boston would be exposed through numerous lawsuits and reporting by the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team.
In one case, a priest who pleaded guilty to inappropriately touching three boys was allowed to serve his sentence during the week — “in order to avoid raising the question as to the celebration of Mass on Sunday,” Garcia wrote in a confidential diocesan file, according to a 2002 New York Times report.
Some of the admitted abusers handled by Garcia and other church officials would be accused of molesting other children after leaving the Brooklyn Diocese.
Sister Sally Butler, a longtime Brooklyn nun, told The News this week that Garcia personally covered up multiple sex abuse complaints involving other priests — including three cases in which she reported that kids were abused.
One of the victims was Carlos Cruz, an orphan partially raised by Butler who confided in her that the Rev. Anthony J. Failla molested him 20 years prior at St. Michael-St. Edward’s in Fort Greene.
Butler, 83, 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.
She said another of the three priests involved in the complaints was Fr. Brian F.X. Callahan, who died in 2003.
Butler said Garcia simply called her one day and declared, “Brian Callahan said there’s nothing to it at all,” and that was that.
“I got the sense he was panicked and afraid of Callahan,” she said. “I think they all knew where the other one’s bodies were buried.”
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. He was compelled to cover everything up,” she said.
In the mid-1990s, the diocese received a letter from Dennis Brown — Davis’ best friend from St. Michael’s, and himself allegedly a victim of sexual abuse at the same time as Davis, in the same parish, by a different priest.
Garcia wrote a letter to Brown stating that he confronted the priest, who denied the incident occurred.
“Dennis got so angry,” his mother Dorothy Fergus told Newsday in 2003. “He wanted Father Garcia punished just as much as Father Collins. He didn't like the idea of a priest protecting a priest.”
Brown was to be the lead plaintiff in the 2003 lawsuit with 42 other victims alleging sexual abuse in the diocese — but he committed suicide by drinking antifreeze days before the lawsuit was to be filed.
“That case haunts me to this day,” Michael Dowd, the attorney for the plaintiffs, told The News. “The devastation to these people’s lives are beyond anything you can imagine.”
Brown’s horrific death rocked Davis, too. At Brown’s wake, their schoolmates, he said, talked “around the subject” of sexual abuse but nobody went into specifics.
Davis for years considered coming forward … but how?
“My parents had too much faith in the Catholic church and I couldn’t do it to them. Who would have believed me anyway?” And if they had, Davis said, “I was afraid it would kill my mother and my father would kill him.”
He worried that coming forward would destroy his career as the head plumber at Shea Stadium. He worried about how his family would respond. He worried about the consequences and the fallout. He still worries about those things.
Garcia — who’s at times been considered a candidate for bishop, with deep connections at the Vatican and one of the most powerful leaders in the United States’ fifth-largest diocese — was not an easy man to confront or accuse. Now a pastor of St. Joan of Arc in Jackson Heights, Garcia has served on several religious boards, including Catholic Charities, is a trustee of St. John’s University and a professor at Catholic University of America.
So, like thousands of other alleged survivors of predatory priests worldwide, Davis continued to suffer with his secret.
Years of being clean and sober, Alcoholics Anonymous and therapy helped him to finally begin to explore the legal means available to him for confronting his demons. In 2016 Davis contacted attorney Mike Reck of Jeff Anderson & Associates, a firm that handles abuse cases within the Diocese of Brooklyn.
At two interviews in 2017 with a diocese lawyer and a private investigator, Davis accused Garcia, who was not present, of sexual abuse.
“But I felt the deck was stacked against me,” he said. “They had a total lack of interest and the way they asked the questions? I’ve been around a lot and know when I’m being played. I was being played.
They “asked me if [Garcia] had ejaculated,” Davis said, “but I told them I couldn’t tell because I still wasn’t adept at the birds and the bees [back then].
“I was just a kid, just learning to talk to girls,” he continued, fighting back tears. “Nobody talked about those things in those days. But I’ve thought about it all my life. I never felt like I was in control. I’ve had three marriages, I abused drugs and alcohol, had anger issues—and it was all to try to kill the pain.”
Reck told The News that the two interviews — akin to a hearing, except the accuser, not the accused, was questioned — were conducted at the office of the diocese’s private investigators SJR Security & Investigative Consultants in Uniondale. Davis was grilled by the investigator, Sean Ramadhin, with the diocese’s attorney, Dominick Sarna, present.
“We have never been able to question the monsignor or any other priest of the diocese,” stated Reck. “Furthermore, we are not provided access to any of the documents regarding the monsignor that the diocese holds confidential — his personnel file, the information about how he responded to allegations regarding other priests and his interactions with other victims.”
Garcia confirmed to The News that he was questioned separately by the investigator.
Information from the interviews was given to the Diocesan Review Board, which gave a recommendation and consulted with the IRCP.
The IRCP was then tasked with coming up with its own ruling. The administrators weighed a number of factors — including the accuser’s ability to document and corroborate sexual abuse incidents; whether others have made similar allegations; the amount of circumstantial evidence; whether the accuser notified others, including church officials and law enforcement authorities; and any relevant medical or counseling records.
The review and compensation board found Davis’ claim not credible. Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the IRCP, twice denied the claim.
“This is not a determination that your claim is fraudulent; rather that there is insufficient support to find your claim eligible for compensation,” Feinberg and Camille Biros wrote in a letter. “Consequently, the Administrators confirm that the claim is ineligible for compensation.”
The diocese backs up the finding, stating, “As per our policy, an investigation was initiated after the claim was referred to law enforcement authorities. After an investigation, the 9-member independent diocesan review board determined it was not a credible allegation. Independently of the diocesan review board, the administrator of the IRCP, Kenneth Feinberg, denied the claim. The claimant asked for reconsideration and Feinberg’s office denied it again. There are no other allegations against Msgr. Garcia.”
Garcia’s attorney, Amoroso, said they were given no details of the decision except for a one-sentence finding.
Of the 400 cases presented to the IRCP, only 19 were found not credible, Diocese Press Secretary Adriana Rodriguez said.
The Queens District Attorney’s Special Victims Unit also had to reject the case because the statute of limitations had passed.
“We do not have any other complaints (against Garcia) that are within the statute of limitations,” a spokesperson for the Special Victims Unit said.
Reck considers the state’s previous sex abuse laws “draconian and unfair.”
Of the 210 referrals of alleged sexual abuse by priests from the Diocese of Brooklyn, “dating back to the ’70s, ’80s and even as far back as the ’40s...including some alleged incidences that did not occur in Queens...All were beyond the statute of limitations,” stated Ikimulisa Livingston, director of communications for Queens DA’s office.
“The law was a dinosaur that gave the church all the tools, while the survivors had always been denied even the basics like depositions, and interrogatory document transparency, which we view as fundamentals of American jurist prudence,” Reck said.
Starting six months after Cuomo signed the bill into law — in mid-August — victims will have a one-year “look back,” meaning they will have 12 months to file a civil claim in court no matter how many years have passed.
Davis and Reck plan to do just that.
So does Michael Dowd, the attorney for 42 alleged victims of priests within the Brooklyn Diocese whose case was turned down because the statute had passed.
“With the new bill, we are going right back and revive the case on the very first day you’re allowed to file,” Dowd said.
Those who have already received compensation cannot file new claims because they’ve all had to sign releases absolving the dioceses of further action.
Reck also announced at a press conference Thursday — with Davis and other sex abuse survivors in attendance — that his firm “will be suing every religious order in the country, for the identities, histories and whereabouts of their offenders.”
Now, clean for decades of drugs and alcohol and most recently of the demon that has haunted his nightmares, Thomas Davis is equipped to fight and not give up.
“I’m not looking for a payday,” he said, “I’m just trying to get [Monsignor Garcia] out of the ministry.”
With Nancy Dillon
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