The man scheduled to be the lead plaintiff in a massive sexual abuse lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, died last week, apparently after ingesting antifreeze.
Dennis Brown, 44, was found early Saturday morning by his girlfriend inside a Ridgewood apartment that he shared with a friend. The girlfriend, who had argued with Brown earlier in the night, called 911 after finding him unsteady and breathing with difficulty.
Brown was taken to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn where he died Sunday night. Police have not yet declared his death a suicide.
It was a tragic end for a man seemingly plagued with despair and pain throughout his life.
Brown grew up in Flushing attending St. Michael’s school and church. He later studied at Mater Christi Diocesan High School—now known as St. John’s Preparatory—in Astoria.
Brown claimed that while serving as an altar boy at St. Michael’s in 1970 and 1971, he was repeatedly molested by Reverend James Collins, 57.
For years, he kept the alleged sexual abuse private from friends and family. Following high school, he attended junior college in Florida and then moved to Atlanta, where he worked for two decades in property management.
However, the memories of abuse continued to haunt Brown, dragging him down a tortuous path of depression and alcoholism.
Recently, though, friends thought he had conquered his addiction and regained control of his life. Brown had been sober for three years at the time of his death.
Brown was mourned at a funeral mass last Thursday at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Forest Hills, ironically one of three parishes where Father Collins was assigned.
According to the lawsuit, filed this week in State Supreme Court in Queens, Collins boys while serving at St. Michael’s—from 1969 through 1978—Our Lady Queen of Martyrs—from 1981 to 1983—and St. Margaret’s in Middle Village, from 1983 to 1984.
Father Collins was also assigned to St. Clare’s in Rosedale from 1978 through 1981, although no parishioners from that church have apparently stepped forward to claim abuse.
The charges came to light in April of 2002 when Father Collins’ name appeared on a list of priests accused of sexual misconduct. The list was sent to local prosecutors, after public and law enforcement pressure mounted for action against deviant priests.
Former Bishop Thomas Daily suspended Father Collins from his most recent post, serving as chaplain at Bishop Kearney High School, an all-girl’s school in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He remains suspended from his duties.
Manhattan attorney Michael Dowd said the lawsuit represents 27 plaintiffs who claim they were abused by 24 priests.
Dowd filed a similar, $300-million lawsuit last October. The suit claimed that 12 current and former Brooklyn-Queens Diocesan priests abused at least 42 children from 1960 through 1984. It further contended that the Diocese attempted to hide the abuse by transferring priests from parish to parish.
The suit was dismissed last year because the alleged abuse occurred too long ago. Dowd plans to appeal.