The late Robert Lott, a Catholic priest, abused a boy repeatedly between 1975 and 1985. The Archdiocese of New York recently paid out a $500,00 settlement to Stephen Ryan-Vuotto, one of Lott’s victims.
Sharon Otterman, a reporter for the New York Times, writes:
Stephen Ryan-Vuotto was 14 and had recently lost his father to lung cancer when a priest in his Greenwich Village parish began inviting him to sleep over at the rectory. His mother was happy, he recalled, because she revered priests.
In particular, she loved the Rev. Robert V. Lott, the man who had befriended her son. He had ministered to the boy’s dying father, and was starting charitable organizations. Before his death in 2002, Father Lott’s reputation grew, as he led an effort to build hundreds of low-income housing units in East Harlem. To this day, an assisted living center, a home health care organization, a community development corporation and a charitable foundation in East Harlem are named for him.
But those nights at the rectory were not innocent. In August, Mr. Ryan-Vuotto was awarded a $500,000 settlement for sexual abuse by Father Lott. The money was from a program being run by the Archdiocese of New York to compensate those sexually abused by priests. In an interview, Mr. Ryan-Vuotto said he was abused more than 50 times between 1975 and 1985, in acts ranging from fondling to sodomy. But he kept silent, in part because after the abuse ended, he became a priest.
Mr. Ryan-Vuotto, who was known as Father Ryan for nearly 20 years, is one of 181 victims who have been awarded settlements by the New York Archdiocese for sexual abuse by priests or deacons in claims reaching back to the 1950s. The deadline for victims to apply is Wednesday.
Mr. Ryan-Vuotto spoke about his abuse on Thursday, and plans to hold a news conference on Monday to encourage more victims to step forward. By going public, he becomes one of only a handful of Roman Catholic priests nationally who have spoken about their own clergy sexual abuse. He is also the first person to name Father Lott as an abuser, forcing a reassessment of a man some called a saint.
This is not a happy day for me, and I’m not thrilled about it,” said Mr. Ryan-Vuotto, 55, who lives in the Albany area and works at a college convenience store. “But it is something I had to do from the deepest core of my being. If I’m going to be transparent and honest and expect that of others, then I need to do it.”
“I believe, I truly believe,” he added, “that although it is going to sully the name of someone a lot of people look up to, it’s truthful. And in the Bible, it says, the truth will set you free.”
Most victims of childhood sexual abuse in New York State have been unable to sue or file charges against their abusers because the statute of limitations requires that they report the abuse before age 23. Most victims are unable to come forward until they are older because of the trauma, psychologists say.
Father Lott was his mentor as he joined the priesthood, and also his family priest, officiating over the marriages of his siblings and the funerals of his grandmothers.
Mr. Ryan-Vuotto said it wasn’t until he entered the seminary in 1987 that he began the process of overcoming what had happened.
As part of his therapy, he confronted Father Lott in the early 1990s. Father Lott, who was then pastor of St. Francis de Sales parish in Manhattan, didn’t even look up from his desk, he said. “You know, I always cared very deeply for you, and I never meant to hurt you,” he recalled Father Lott saying.
Mr. Ryan-Vuotto was a priest for 18 years, his last post as pastor of St. Rita’s Church on Staten Island. In 2008, he petitioned for a leave of absence, telling the chancery that he was questioning his vocation because of his own sexual abuse.
After leaving the ministry, he met the man who would become his husband, Michael Vuotto, moved to the Albany area and joined the Episcopal Church. He received no pension, and his priest friends cut ties with him, presumably to avoid association with his gay marriage. He had to start over. “The church was everything to me,” he said.
Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer portrayed in the movie “Spotlight,” represented Mr. Ryan-Vuotto. He called for all posthumous honors to be stripped from Father Lott and the other accused priests.
“The reputation of Father Lott should be reflected to show that he was a pure predator who preyed upon an innocent child by repeatedly sexually abusing that child over the course of years,” he said. “It is not unusual for the Catholic Church to put up buildings in the names of predator priests, and supervisors who allowed predatory activity to take place.”
In East Harlem, the executives of the Lott Community Development Corporation, Lott Residence, Lott Community Home Healthcare, and Lott Foundation were grappling Friday with the news that their namesake had been named a sexual predator.
“The boards and executive leadership of the Lott organizations need time to digest this news and reflect on the question of whether we should rename our organizations, [ YOU HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THIS?] ” the organizations said in a statement.
Lott died in 2002. His paid New York Times obituary stated:
Reverend Robert V. 1939-2002. Father Lott was a visionary who saw outside of normal boundaries. He dedicated his life to teaching others to help themselves and their communities. Driven by the social gospel to serve those in need, he was a vigorous advocate for programs benefiting the elderly, and a prolific developer of low-income housing. Father Lott asked others to reach for goals that would intimidate most, and his sermons and liturgies inspired those around him to put God’s words into action. Born in the Bronx on November 23, 1939, Father Lott was raised in St. Frances of Rome Parish in Wakefield. He studied at All Hallows High School, and graduated from Iona College. Shortly after, he entered St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie and was ordained on May 29, 1965. After ordination, he pursued advanced studies in Liturgy and earned a Master’s Degree in Sacred Scripture. His first assignment was at St. John the Evangelist in White Plains, where he worked with the New York Apostolate for the Deaf. Father Lott served as Assistant Pastor of St. Peter’s in Yonkers and St. Joseph’s of Greenwich Village. While at St. Joseph’s, he co-founded and served as Chairman of the Caring Community, and he led that organization in the purchase of Village Nursing Home. Father Lott was a former member of Planning Board II, and the co-founder and former Chairman of The Council of Senior Centers and Services. He was appointed Pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish on East 96th Street in July of 1987, and Administrator of St. Lucy’s Parish in 1998. At the former, he operated a soup kitchen and a shelter for the homeless. During the past fifteen years, he founded and served as Chairman of the Board and President of the SFDS Development Corporation. Through that not-forprofit organization, he developed over 700 low-income housing units in East Harlem ranging from housing for the homeless to a model assisted living facility for the elderly on Fifth Avenue. The Caring Community, Presbyterian Homes, and Village Care of New York have all honored him as Man of the Year. Last year he was presented with the Maggie Kuhn Award. Donations may be made to the The Reverend Robert V. Lott Memorial Fund, c/o SFDS Development Corporation, 1261 Fifth Ave., New York, NY, 10029.
LOTT-Rev. Robert V. Died February 27, 2002. The son of the late Margaret and Robert Lott. Survived by his aunt Emily LaFleur, and his cousins Joan Kliemisch, Barbara DiFiore, and Catherine Lewis. The Pastor of the Church of St. Francis deSales on East 96th St, and Administrator of the Church of St. Lucy on East 104th St, Chairman of the Board and President of the SFDS Development Corporation. Father Lott was a vigorous community advocate dedicated to elderly and low income persons in need of housing. His body will lie in state in the Church of St. Francis deSales on Friday beginning at 10:30 A.M. A Eucharist will be celebrated on Friday at 7:30 P.M. The Funeral Liturgy will be prayed at 10 AM on Saturday, March 2. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Robert V. Lott Memorial Fund, c/o SFDS Development Corp., 1261 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY 10029.
LOTT-Rev. Robert V. The Board of Directors, staff and volunteers of The Burden Center for The Aging note with profound sorrow the passing of Rev. Robert V. Lott. He was a good friend and generous colleague. His passion for helping others informed all his work as demonstrated through his exceptional leadership. We were fortunate that he served as executive director of Volunteer Services for the Elderly of Yorkville before its merger with the Burden Center. His compassion and vision helped set high standards for excellence. We will miss his gracious counsel and wonderful humor. Our heartfelt sympathy is extended to his family and to all the staff and parishioners of St. Francis deSales Church. Ellsworth G. Stanton III Chairman, Board of Directors William J. Dionne Executive Director
LOTT-Reverend Robert V. The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty mourns the passing of our dear friend Father Lott, a pioneer in caring for people in need. Merryl H. Tisch, President Joseph C. Shenker, Pres-Elect William E. Rapfogel Executive Director
LOTT-Rev. Robert V. Bob was a great and good friend and we will treasure our memory of him. Rose Dobrof, Pasquale Gilberto