Catholic priest Louis Gigante’s $7M fortune went to secret son he fathered despite vow of celibacy

For a Catholic priest who profited from development projects, Democratic connections and having a mob boss brother, what was known during his life was not so surprising as the open secret confirmed in his last will and testament that left one reporter saying, “I almost fell out of my chair.”

Reverend Louis R. Gigante was a fixture in the South Bronx for decades, spending just over 40 years as a Catholic priest until his retirement from the Archdiocese of New York in 2002. In addition to the priesthood at St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church, he was also well known for his brother, Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, the reported head of the Genovese crime family of the New York Mafia and for running a successful development company working to revitalize the community.

What wasn’t confirmed until after his death in October, was the fact that despite a vow of celibacy, Gigante had fathered a son in 1990 and lived with him and his mother in what some considered to be a well-known secret in Westchester County. Speaking with The New York Times, Luigino Gigante, the priest’s son confirmed the report and said, “We had a quiet life. He was proud of me. We did everything together.”

The story had been verified by former New York Daily News reporter Salvatore Arena who set out to write a book about Gigante’s life and had requested to see the priest’s will for his project. “I almost fell out of my chair,” Arena said when he discovered the truth about the secret son and the $7 million that had been left to the 32-year-old.

“I didn’t take a vow of poverty,” Gigante had explained to the Times in a profile in 1981. “People think I don’t get paid and that I’m a saint for doing it. That’s their problem.”

As it happened, in addition to his duties with the church, the priest, who had spent a portion of the 70s as a Democratic New York City Council member, had started the South East Bronx Community Organization (SEBCO) which worked with other development companies Gigante would go on to run developing, managing, and providing security for the community. He garnered a salary of $100,000 a year as president of SEBCO alone and the small fortune that he accumulated was left mostly to his son in a trust accessible after Luigino turns 40.

According to Joseph Zwilling, a representative for the Archdiocese of New York, it was never explicitly known “beyond rumors” that Gigante was in violation, and, “While each case would be evaluated and addressed on its own merits, a priest who fathers a child would be expected to provide support for the child and mother. In general, though, priests who have children leave the priesthood, usually voluntarily.”

But, while the church denied knowledge, Luigino recounted a friend of his father saying, “After you were born, your father was called down.” Gigante presented himself and reported afterward to the friend, “They asked me if I had a son, and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and left. And that’s that.”

As a colleague from SEBCO, Peter Cantillo, put it, “It was common knowledge — no one really blinked about it,” and suggested the church turned a blind eye, “People felt he was just such a great guy, he did so much for the community.”

Gigante’s reputation wasn’t entirely sterling though as two cases of alleged sexual abuse were pending before his death where he had been accused of assaulting a girl in the 60s and a boy in the 70s, both of which he adamantly denied.

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Kevin Haggerty

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