Priest's Getaway Home: He Took Some Victims There, Lawyer Alleges

By Ron Howell
Long Island (NY) Newsday
April 17, 2002,0,6545337.story

The Rev. James Smith, accused of molesting dozens of boys and girls in various parishes of Queens years ago, sometimes took the youngsters to a second home on Long Island, an attorney for the alleged victims says.

Attorney Michael Dowd says some of his clients were abused by Smith at the Amityville home in the 1970s and earlier.

"At least several said they were in Amityville," Dowd said. "One talked about staying overnight and going fishing."

The Amityville property, according to Babylon town officials, receives hefty tax breaks because Smith applied for and received a clergyman's tax exemption.

Although some priests are required to live lives of rigid asceticism, many live quite comfortably, and some "get lots of freebies" from well-placed friends and grateful parishioners, said A. W. Richard Sipe, a former priest and author living in California.

In the case of Smith, who was recently removed by church officials from his position as pastor of St. Kevin's Church in Flushing, the comfortable lifestyle included a home close to the beach and a fishing boat, according to property records and a neighbor.

One neighbor on the New Point Place block in Amityville where Smith has his second home said she did not recall Smith coming there with young people, but she said she did see him with other priests.

"They would go out on his boat," said the woman, who lives several houses down from Smith's residence. "A nice little comfortable boat, not too big, not too small."

Aileen Ronayne, the assessor for the town of Babylon, said that because Smith had a clergyman's exemption, he was billed only $3,625.09 in local taxes in the most recent tax year, compared to the full bill of $5,602.18.

Like other diocesan priests, Smith had his main residence at the rectory of the parish with which he was associated.

Smith served as pastor of St. Kevin's from 1989 until his recent removal by Bishop Thomas Daily, head of the Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens. He is currently at an out-of-state facility undergoing counseling and treatment for depression, Daily has said.

Frank DeRosa, spokesman for the Brooklyn diocese, said diocesan priests - unlike "religious order" priests like Jesuits, Franciscans and Dominicans - are free to own homes.

"Sometimes, a family leaves a home [in a will], or he might buy a home in conjunction with two or three other priests" as a vacation or retirement home, DeRosa said.

A retired diocesan priest now living in Connecticut said families often help their priest relatives buy homes because "the salary [of a priest] is not a generous salary ... it comes to about $12,000 a year." The priest did not want to be quoted by name.

Eugene Kennedy, a professor at Loyola University in Chicago and a scholar on the Catholic church, said it is a good thing for priests to own property because it helps them to "understand the pressures of everyday life."


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