Ex-NYC councilman, SEBCO founder accused of child sex abuse
Louis Gigante, a former priest turned New York City councilman who is credited for rebuilding the Hunts Point section of the Bronx in the 1980s, is being accused of sexually abusing a minor while at St. Athanasius Church in Longwood, according to recent court filings.
According to documents filed with the Bronx County clerk on May 25, an unnamed “John Doe” alleges that Gigante sexually assaulted him from 1976-1977 when he was a nine-year-old attending Gigante’s bible study at St. Athanasius Church.
The man, estimated to be 50 years old, alleges that during that time Gigante forced him to perform oral sex during bible study sessions.
“The Archdiocese knew or should have known that Father Gigante was sexually abusing children and/or had the propensity to do so,” the claim reads. “The defendants Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, and St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church knew or should have known of the abuse that Mr. Doe and other young children were suffering at the hands of their clergy.”
St. Athanasius Church officials declined to comment on “a pending legal matter” and attempts by the Bronx Times to reach Gigante for comment about the allegations were unsuccessful.
Gigante’s brother was Vincent Chin Gigante, former head of the Genovese crime family.
Gigante is one of 177 names recently unveiled in a wave of lawsuits against parishioners and officials connected to the Archdiocese of New York via the state’s 2019 Child Victims Act, which granted a one-year window for child sexual abuse survivors to file court cases that had already been time-barred or expired.
Having already been extended twice, the act’s latest timeline extension expires on Aug. 14.
In the most recent legislative session, state lawmakers had discussed the Adult Survivors Act, which creates a similar look-back window similar to the Child Victims Act, but for those who were sexually abused as adults and are time-barred from filing civil suits.
In a statement to the Bronx Times on Wednesday, NYC-based law firm Curis Law, who is representing the unnamed plaintiff, is hoping future legislation can continue to remove the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse.
“We commend all child sexual abuse survivors coming forward and seeking justice,” the statement reads. “It is unfortunate that the August 14, 2021 deadline will soon come to an end and look to New York State to implement new legislation to remove time restrictions as the trauma and suffering for these survivors is everlasting.”
Gigante was the parish priest of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor when she was a teenager, which is documented in her memoir “My Beloved World.”
Gigante is more widely known, however, for his work in economic and community development in the South Bronx and his involvement in NYC politics.
Gigante founded the Southeast Bronx Community Organization (SEBCO) and Simpson Street Development Association in 1968 and 1969, respectively. In 1971, Gigante, while still a priest, founded the Bruckner Democratic Club and then was a two-term Bronx city councilman after being elected in 1973.
He unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1980, however Gigante’s fingerprints are all over the Hunts Points section of the Bronx.
In the ’80s, the non-profit housing group SEBCO developed almost 2,000 new or renovated housing units for low-income families in the Hunts Points area, which was considered downtrodden by national pundits and media.
However, a four-month investigation by The Village Voice in 2007 revealed that Gigante and his publicly financed South Bronx developments were $50 million investments that benefitted companies owned by or affiliated with top-ranking members of the Genovese organized crime family.
Between 1978 and 2004, SEBCO registered 18 businesses, including six nonprofit organizations and 12 for-profit companies. Gigante is listed as CEO of five of the corporations and a chairperson of the majority of the nonprofit organizations.
In July 2017, Gigante was honored for “rebuilding major stretches of the South Bronx” by elected officials at a Family Day celebration in front of his former church at St. Athanasius.
The law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates, a firm advocating for survivors of sexual abuse, says more than 1,700 alleged perpetrators are tied to the Catholic Diocese in New York.
Approximately 962 lawsuits have already been filed under the state’s Child Victims Act involving the Archdiocese of New York.
“Many times when a survivor comes forward with allegations against an alleged perpetrator, more survivors are often out there and may come forward,” said a representative from Anderson & Associates PA, a firm advocating for survivors of sexual abuse. “Unfortunately, so many survivors feel alone and when they see another survivor from the same location of abuse, or abused by the same alleged perpetrator, it can inspire those survivors to come forward and seek legal justice.”