Vatican Clears Brooklyn Bishop of Child Abuse Charges From 1970s

New York Times

September 1, 2021

By Liam Stack

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio still faces two lawsuits based on the allegations, which date to his time as a young priest in Jersey City.

The Archdiocese of New York said on Wednesday that an investigation authorized by the Vatican had cleared Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, of allegations made against him by two men who said they were abused as children.

The accusations, which date to the bishop’s time as a young priest in Jersey City in the 1970s, were found by the Vatican’s powerful doctrinal office “not to have the semblance of truth,” the archdiocese said in a statement.

The findings likely mean Bishop DiMarzio, who has led the Brooklyn diocese since 2003, will face no disciplinary action from church officials, regardless of what happens with two civil lawsuits based on the allegations that continue to wind their way through the courts in New Jersey.

“Throughout my more than 50-year ministry as a priest, I have never abused anyone,” the bishop said in a statement. “I ask for your prayers as I continue to fight against the lawsuits stemming from these two allegations, and as I now look forward to clearing my name in the New Jersey state courts.”

Neither accuser could be reached for comment on Wednesday. The lawyer for both accusers, Mitchell Garabedian, did not respond to a request for comment.

But Mr. Garabedian, a central figure in the church sex abuse scandal in Boston that began in 2002, said in a statement that the investigation had been “subjective and biased” because it was conducted by church officials in New York and Vatican City, as well as outside investigators whom they had paid.

“The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which rendered the decision, is in the business of continuing the secrecy of clergy sexual abuse by hiding the truth,” he said. “My clients will continue to pursue their claims in the civil courts and justice will prevail when the truth is revealed.”

The allegations against Bishop DiMarzio were part of a larger wave of claims made against Catholic priests across the country in the wake of a bombshell 2018 report from a Pennsylvania grand jury that documented a decades-long history of clergy sex abuse there.

The report helped propel the passage of long-stalled laws in New York, New Jersey and other states that allowed victims of childhood sex abuse to file civil suits long after the statute of limitations had passed.

The legal window opened by those laws led to a flood of lawsuits that resulted in several large organizations filing for bankruptcy, including the Boy Scouts of America and four of the eight Roman Catholic dioceses in New York State.

Neither the Archdiocese of New York nor the Diocese of Brooklyn have declared bankruptcy, but both have been named in a large number of civil suits.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said last month that more than 1,500 claims have been brought against the Archdiocese of New York, which includes Staten Island, Manhattan, the Bronx and several counties north of the city. A spokesman for the Brooklyn diocese, which covers Brooklyn and Queens, said figures on the total number of suits filed against them were unavailable on Wednesday.

The allegations against Bishop DiMarzio arrived just one month after Pope Francis chose him to investigate the handling of sex abuse claims by the Buffalo diocese.

That investigation in Buffalo was completed roughly two weeks before his first accuser, Mark Matzek, went public with claims that the bishop abused him when he was a preteen altar boy at St. Nicholas Church in Jersey City.

A second accuser, Samier Tadros, sued the bishop and the Archdiocese of Newark earlier this year for abuse he claimed began when he was a 6-year-old parishioner at Holy Rosary Church in Jersey City.

Bishop DiMarzio denied both accusations.

The Vatican’s investigation was conducted under rules adopted in 2019 that governed how the church should investigate bishops accused of abuse.

Cardinal Dolan, as the highest ranking bishop in New York, oversaw the inquiry, which was conducted by an outside law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills, and a consulting group headed by Louis Freeh, the former F.B.I. director. The Vatican’s powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith then reviewed their findings.

Joseph A. Hayden Jr., a lawyer for Bishop DiMarzio, praised the outside investigators on Wednesday, saying Mr. Freeh and John O’Donnell, a former federal prosecutor and partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, were “former law enforcement officials with proven experience and impeccable integrity.”

Liam Stack is a religion correspondent on the Metro desk, covering New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. He was previously a political reporter based in New York and a Middle East correspondent based in Cairo. @liamstack