More Come Forward With Abuse Claims
By Ron Howell, Joshua Robin and Karen Freifeld
April 12, 2002
The number of alleged victims of the Rev. James Smith soared to two dozen yesterday, as prosecutors began investigating child abuse allegations that span three decades in various Queens parishes.
A source in the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said prosecutors were beginning a "preliminary investigation" into the cases, even though the five-year statute of limitations has expired in all those that have come to light.
While most accusers are men, several are women who were allegedly abused as pre-teens in the 1970s.
"I knew I felt dirty afterwards, and I felt ashamed," said one woman, 40, who spoke with Newsday yesterday. "He was a priest. He was like God to me."
The woman said Smith fondled her on several occasions when she was a fifth-grader at Holy Trinity school in Whitestone in the early 1970s.
She said the incidents occasionally took place when she was meeting with Smith for confession - the time when Catholics tell their sins to priests.
She said she kept the painful experiences to herself for years. But earlier this week she saw Smith's picture in Newsday and burst into tears.
"I'm very, very angry at my church," said the woman, who did not want her name used.
Last weekend, as accusations against Smith began to surface, Bishop Thomas Daily, head of the Diocese of Brooklyn, wrote a letter to parishioners at St. Kevin's Church in Flushing, saying Smith was being removed and would not be allowed to stay past his retirement.
Smith, 71, is at an out-of-state facility receiving counseling and treatment for depression, the diocese has said.
Daily's spokesman, Frank DeRosa, said church officials did not know about the many abuse allegations that have been surfacing during the last three days.
"If we didn't know about it, then obviously there would have been no action taken," DeRosa said, explaining how Smith could have allegedly molested so many children over so many years without the church taking action against him.
"These stories that we're hearing now, they're all new," he said.
Some of the oldest allegations against Smith are being made by men who say they were inappropriately touched at Our Lady of Grace Church in Howard Beach, where Smith was a young priest from 1956 to 1965.
He was then reassigned to Holy Trinity Catholic Church, serving there from 1965 to 1976. Most of the alleged sex abuse incidents occurred there.
One man who called Newsday said Smith would walk into class at Holy Trinity elementary school and ask the teacher to excuse certain altar boys.
Smith would then take them into the church and have sexual encounters at the altar, the man said, asking that his name not be used.
After his time at Holy Trinity, Smith was sent to Our Lady of Hope in Middle Village, where he served as parish priest from 1976 to 1980, according to the Brooklyn diocese, which includes Queens.
In 1980, Smith was made spiritual leader of his own church, as he became the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Long Island City. In 1989, he became pastor of St. Kevin's.
Attorney Michael Dowd said yesterday that about 20 men and several women so far have called his office with complaints about Smith.
Brown has been in touch with Dowd and will be reviewing the complaints Dowd has received.
"You hear the same story over and over," Dowd said. "Tickling them, sort of wrestling, forcing them down on the altar."
One caller to Newsday said that despite the acts of abuse, children loved Smith because "he was such a nice guy."
The woman who spoke with Newsday said the very same thing.
She said she felt "terrible for him."
"I know that sounds weird. But it's a terrible ending for him. He's going to be in hell for the rest of his life because of this," she said.
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