Former Douglaston Priest Accused Again of Molestation

By Liz Rhoades
Queens Chronicle
August 26, 2004

A former Douglaston priest has been accused, once again, of molesting a child, in this case an 11-year-old Brooklyn boy two years ago.

Joseph Byrns, 61, who was barred from the ministry by the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens last June because of past sexual abuse charges in Douglaston, was indicted last week in Brooklyn. According to the charges, Byrns is accused of calling the alleged victim to St. Rose of Lima Church in Brooklyn, when there was no reason to do so, and molesting him.

Ironically, at the same time as the alleged abuse, Byrns was denying accusations that he sexually assaulted an altar boy and his brother 30 years ago at St. Anastasia’s Catholic Church in Douglaston. At the time, he was very outspoken, calling the main accuser, “a tortured person, more to be pitied than condemned.”

The original charges were brought by Father Timothy Lambert and his brother, Robert. Persistence by Father Lambert eventually got action on the sexual abuse charges.

The spring removal of Father Byrns was revealed at St. Anastasia’s and St. Rose of Lima by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens in a letter to parishioners. The discredited priest served in the Douglaston church from 1969 to 1983.

Father Lambert, 46, who works in the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, announced the alleged abuse in 1997, but the diocese did not actively investigate the charges. Father Byrns was originally supported by the diocese, but the charges resurfaced in 2002 after reports were published that then-Bishop Thomas Daily covered up a similar case while serving in Boston.

Father Lambert said that Byrns first molested him at the age of 12 while on an overnight trip to Niagara Falls. The abuse allegedly continued for three years, mostly in the rectory.

He called it the classic molestation case of the father not being around, the mother, a devout Catholic, trying to raise five children and a priest serving as a surrogate father. Lambert did not find out until he was an adult that his older brother, Robert, 48, who now lives in Las Vegas, had also been sexually abused by the priest, but not as often as his brother.

In 1997, Father Lambert underwent treatment for alcoholism that he said was brought on by the abuse. He then told his brother about the molestations and learned that Robert was also abused, at least twice, by Father Byrns at the age of 13.

Two years ago, when the charges first surfaced, Frank DeRosa, a diocese spokesman, said the Lambert case had been thoroughly investigated and that Byrns had established “a credibility in his denials.”

But since then, Byrns was put on temporary leave after the Queens District Attorney’s Office told the diocese that its investigation showed the charges were credible. A diocesan review board was convened and concurred with the D.A.’s findings, leading to the priest’s removal from the ministry.

Brown was not able to prosecute because the statute of limitations had expired.

It is believed that the discredited priest then went to live with family members. He was arrested last week in an Oneonta hotel, where he was on vacation with his brother.

According to the latest charges in Brooklyn, the abuse against the 11-year-old altar boy began in 2000 and continued through 2002. It is alleged that it started when Father Byrns called the boy and asked him to be an altar boy at a special mass. When he arrived at the rectory, there was no mass and the abuse began.

The indictment said that the priest gave the boy money and toys to keep him quiet and that he also threatened him. Byrns was charged last week with 2 felony and 20 misdemeanor counts and faces up to 25 years in jail.

Byrns pleaded not guilty to charges that he repeatedly sodomized the boy. He was freed after posting $10,000 bail.

Meanwhile, the Lamberts are continuing to pursue a lawsuit against the diocese for taking no action on their allegations.

When the Lamberts’ charges first became public two years ago, some members of the St. Anastasia congregation, who remembered Byrns, said they were shocked and couldn’t believe it. He was described as a decent man, “good with kids” and that the parishioners would have trusted him with their own children.

Byrns’ lawyer, Jonathan Fink, called the latest charges weak.

The Lambert brothers said they derived no satisfaction over the new charges, although they do feel somewhat vindicated. If they had been listened to by the diocese, they said, perhaps the latest child would not have become a victim


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