A former teacher at a Catholic school in Queens who said she had reported the sexual abuse of seven female students by a priest in 1991 now claims that the Diocese of Brooklyn covered it up for more than a decade, allowing more girls to be abused.
The teacher, Linda Porcaro, said on Wednesday that she is coming forward now because the victims, on whose behalf she was speaking, are ready to seek justice. Over the last two months, 23 women who said they were abused by the former priest, Adam Prochaski, have become clients of the lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, who was portrayed in the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight,” about clergy sex abuse. Most of the women’s claims have been referred to the police.
Mr. Prochaski was based at Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in Maspeth for nearly 25 years. He is accused of abusing the girls between 1972 and 1994, when they were between the ages 5 and 16.
In New York State, no criminal or civil litigation can take place for most child sex abuse crimes after a victim turns 23. But an exception can be made for rape. The New York Police Department was investigating whether any of the recent allegations qualify for prosecution, a spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney’s office said.
Mr. Garabedian said the crimes Mr. Prochaski was accused of ranged from fondling to rape. He has also provided advice on whether the women should apply for compensation through the diocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, which was established in June. He expects more women will come forward.
He said the women cannot comment themselves because of the pending investigation.
Outside the Queens church, Ms. Porcaro said: “It’s horrible, it’s really horrible. And what kills me is that it could have been stopped. And I don’t know why no one would do it.”
Ms. Porcaro, 63, said that at the end of 1990, seven fifth-graders told her that Father Prochaski was sexually abusing them. Most were Polish immigrants whose families had been brought to America with the help of the priest, to whom they felt beholden.
She said she reported the abuse to the principal, a nun from the Sisters of the Holy Family order. She said the nun laughed and said, “Oh, everybody knows about Father Adam,” she recalled. “And I had tears in my eyes.”
That principal left, and in 1991, Ms. Porcaro reported the abuse to the next principal. This time, she said, the diocese sent people to ask the students questions. But Father Prochaski remained as the administrator of the school and the parish’s pastor.
Carolyn Erstad, a spokeswoman for the diocese, denied on Wednesday that the diocese had received any allegations about Father Prochaski in 1991. She said two women came directly to the diocese in 1994 to report that they were abused as children by him. Separately, a principal and teacher reported that he had abused children. The diocese confronted Father Prochaski and he denied the allegations, she said.
Ms. Erstad said that in October 1994, Father Prochaski resigned, and that in 1995, he wrote a letter cutting all ties with the diocese. He has not served as a priest since.
Ms. Erstad acknowledged that it was not until 2002 that the Brooklyn Diocese notified law enforcement about the allegations. That was the year American bishops passed the Dallas Charter, requiring that dioceses report all allegations of sexual abuse of minors to public authorities. By then, none of the allegations against Mr. Prochaski were within the statute of limitations for prosecution, the spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney said.
After resigning as pastor, Mr. Prochaski, now 75, moved to Ridgewood, Queens, and married.
Mr. Prochaski did not return a request for comment, and a man leaving his home said he could not comment on the situation.
In June, the Brooklyn Diocese began a program to offer survivors of clergy sexual abuse monetary awards, if they agreed to pursue no further legal action against the diocese. This summer, Mr. Garabedian said, a woman who claimed to be one of Mr. Prochaski’s victims asked him for help in applying.
A Facebook post then circulated, seeking additional victims, and Ms. Porcaro, who remains in touch with many of her former students, reposted it. “My computer went bonkers,” she said. Women she had never met began calling her to ask for guidance. “They thought they were the only ones,” she said.
Since it began, the Brooklyn sex abuse compensation program has received 211 claims and made 76 offers. Sixty settlements have been accepted. The initial deadline for applying for funds is Sunday, but victims who have never previously come forward may apply in a second phase. Mr. Garabedian said settlements have ranged between $100,000 and $500,000.
Doris Burke contributed research.