PARK SLOPE — Luis A. Torres Jr., a member of the Diocesan Review Board, the independent panel that investigates allegations of sexual abuse against clergy in the Diocese of Brooklyn, passed away Thursday, March 30, from 9/11-related cancer. He was 58 years old.
Torres was an attorney and a survivor of clergy sex abuse who brought both of these aspects of his life to his role on the board. The panel investigates allegations against clergy and makes recommendations on what action the diocese should take. Torres was an original member, having been appointed to the panel when it was formed in 2003.
“He brought the perspective of a survivor, and he was also a lawyer, so he had a legal background that greatly assisted the board in making determinations,” said Maryellen Quinn, director of the Office of Protection of Children and Young People.
Quinn called Torres’ passing “a loss for the diocese and a loss for the survivor community.”
Torres chose to work with the Catholic Church, not against it, to combat the issue of sex abuse, said Barbara Torres, his wife of 26 years. “He always saw his faith as unshakable. And he always thought the Church was fixable. He was an optimist,” she said.
Torres was a lawyer in the New York City Law Department during the Giuliani administration and worked in Lower Manhattan during and after the 9/11 attack. In the months after the attack, he spent a great deal of time escorting dignitaries visiting the World Trade Center site.
“His role was to escort people around the World Trade Center and explain why it was so important for them to support funding the relief efforts there,” Barbara Torres recalled.
However, his months of work at the site caused him to be exposed to toxins at the World Trade Center, his family said. He contracted a rare form of spinal cord cancer that eventually rendered him a quadriplegic and took his life.
“But he still had his voice. He continued to speak out on 9/11 and for victims. And he was able to do that until the end,” Barbara Torres said.
As an advocate for survivors, Torres’ expertise was much sought-after both on the local and national levels.
In 2018, he spoke at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore about his experience and urged the Church to do more for victims.
“It was such a poignant event for him to be able to address the body of bishops at that time. You could hear a pin drop when he spoke,” said Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat of Youth and Child Protection for the USCCB.
Deacon Nojadera, who met Torres when the latter called him out of the blue one day after looking him up in LinkedIn and seeing he worked at the USCCB, said he admired his friend’s courage.
“Here we had someone who had been abused getting involved with the Church, being a part of the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Review Board,” he said. “He was always giving back. He ended up becoming the voice in many ways for the people who are voiceless.”
His friend was straightforward, Deacon Nojadera added. “He didn’t mince words.”
Several years ago, Torres and another sex abuse survivor, Teresa Pitt Green, co-founded Spirit Fire, a not-for-profit organization for survivors.
Torres grew up in Park Slope and attended St. Francis Xavier Church as a child. He was a graduate of Princeton University and earned his law degree at the New York University School of Law.
A wake for Torres was held on Friday, March 31, at Casey McCallum Rice South Shore Funeral Home on Staten Island, where he lived with his family. His funeral took place on Saturday, April 1, at St. Patrick’s Church on Staten Island. Burial took place at Resurrection Cemetery.
Torres is survived by his wife, Barbara, and their three daughters, Ally, Becca, and Juli.
The family asked that donations be made to the Luis A. Torres Jr. Esq. Scholarship Fund (spiritfirelive.wordpress.com), a charity that is being established through Spirit Fire to assist abuse survivors.