Brooklyn Priest Pulled from Ministry:
Diocese Finds Brothers' Abuse Claims Credible

By Michael Rezendes
Boston Globe [Brooklyn NY]
July 2, 2004

A Brooklyn priest who was initially exonerated after allegations that he sexually molested two brothers in the early 1970s has been permanently removed from active ministry by Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio -- six years after church officials first heard the charges.

The announcement that the Brooklyn diocese has found allegations against the Rev. Joseph P. Byrns credible was made at St. Anastasia Church in Queens, where Byrns was serving at the time the two brothers were abused, and at St. Rose of Lima Church in Brooklyn, where Byrns was pastor until last July, when he was temporarily suspended.

In his June 28 letter to parishioners, DiMarzio said church officials reached their decision after the allegations were examined by a diocesan review board established to evaluate allegations of clergy sexual abuse.

"I accepted the board's report and met with Father Byrns, advising him that he would not be permitted to return to active ministry," DiMarzio said.

DiMarzio's action was a crucial marker on a long and painful journey for the brothers who made the allegations, the Rev. Timothy J. Lambert, a New Jersey priest, and Robert V. Lambert, a Nevada resident who has held a variety of jobs.

"I'm very relieved this has happened," Robert Lambert said yesterday. "At the same time, I'm a bit disappointed that it took this long."

The allegations against Byrns, publicly disclosed for the first time by the Globe in 2002, were made in 1998 when Timothy Lambert met with church officials and said he had been repeatedly abused by Byrns, beginning when he was in the sixth grade.

The abuse occurred, Lambert said, after Byrns had become a fixture at his home, where his mother was struggling to raise four sons and a daughter on her own.

But Lambert heard little from the diocese and his allegations were repeated a year later by his attorney, Stephen C. Rubino, in an eight-page letter to Bishop Thomas V. Daily, the onetime Boston bishop who was then leading the Brooklyn diocese.

DiMarzio, in his Sunday letter, told parishioners that church officials who reviewed the Lamberts' charges "took them seriously" and noted that Byrns adamantly denied them.

"The diocesan representatives, after examining the matter over an extended period of time, found it extremely difficult to determine where the truth lay."

But in an interview two years ago, Frank De Rosa, the spokesman for the diocese, said Daily had reviewed the allegations and concluded Byrns was not guilty. De Rosa said a church investigation of the allegations went no further than interviews with Byrns and church officials.

After the Globe disclosed the abuse charges in March 2002, church officials allowed Byrns to deny them in an address to parishioners in which he said, "the accuser, personally known to me, is a deeply tortured, troubled, and disturbed person."

A year later, in 2003, Daily received information from the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, which investigated the allegations, and placed Byrns on administrative leave, although the allegations fell outside New York's statute of limitations and could not be formally prosecuted.

After Daily retired, DiMarzio referred the allegations to the diocesan review board, an entity established in the wake of the clergy abuse scandal of 2002, under reforms recommended by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Byrns was removed. "I'm thankful the new bishop paid attention," Robert Lambert said yesterday. "Daily didn't do anything for us."