Retired priest accused of having child porn is sick and can’t stand trial, lawyer argues

By Trevor Boyer
Daily News
May 15, 2019

Monsignor Harry Byrne appears at his arraignment in Bronx Supreme Court on Tuesday, October 31, 2017.
Photo by Jefferson Siegel

A 98-year-old retired Catholic priest accused of possessing child pornography will never be fit to stand trial so charges against him should be dismissed, his lawyer argued in a motion filed on Wednesday at Bronx Supreme Court.

Monsignor Harry Byrne resides at St. Lawrence Friary Infirmary in Beacon, N.Y., and requires total care for all his basic needs, according to the filing. If accepted, the motion would dismiss the 74-count indictment that the priest faces.

"He is irreversibly infirm," his attorney, Marvin Ray Raskin, told the Daily News. "There's a lot of hope for rehabilitation, but there's no practical expectation."

Byrne was an activist priest who worked to create affordable housing in the Bronx and Manhattan, and he remained outspoken on church issues even after his retirement in 1996.

He faces 37 counts of possessing an obscene sexual performance by a child and another 37 counts of possessing a sexual performance by a child. He turned himself into police on Oct. 31, 2017, and pleaded not guilty.

Byrne “had dozens of photographs on his computer of girls 8 to 14 years old performing sex acts with men or posing naked,” Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said in announcing his indictment in 2017.

Prosecutors charged that Byrne used internet search engines to find the pornography online. The illegal images were found in a forensic sweep of the priest's computer by the NYPD Computer Crimes Squad, officials said.

In a July 2010 blog post, Byrne railed about the Catholic Church’s mishandling of the pedophile priest crisis.

“Bishops ... quietly reassigned miscreants and thereby exponentially multiplied the number of victims,” he wrote. “In the U.S., not one cover-up bishop has been arraigned before church authorities for his part in the scandal.”

Byrne, who was chancellor of the Archdiocese of New York from 1968 to 1970, was living at the St. John Vianney Center for Retired Priests in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The probe, which was started five months prior to his indictment, was based on complaints from the home, officials said at the time.

After an examination by a neurologist, Judge Robert Neary declared on March 27 that Byrne is “an incapacitated person.” The judge ruled that the friary’s infirmary should continue to care for the priest unless the state commissioner of mental health determines that he should be moved to a different institution. Byrne technically remains in the custody of the state office of mental health on an outpatient basis. He suffers from dementia, alongside a raft of physical ailments.

The motion noted that a report by neurologist Lawrence Shields contained an "unchallenged conclusion that the defendant is irreversibly deteriorating physically and mentally and is irrefutably suffering from conditions from which he cannot recuperate.”

The motion asks the judge to dismiss Byrne's indictment "in the furtherance of justice," or barring that, based on the fact that "the prosecution of the defendant has effectively been terminated."

It argues that “Because of his incapacity, the defendant cannot be convicted of the crimes charged, as he cannot legally be brought to trial or enter a plea of guilty.”

Brother Rudolph Pieretti, administrator of the infirmary, told Judge Neary in a letter that Byrne cannot walk, he wears hearing aids, and his vision is so bad that he can’t read. He has no access to a computer and does not use the Internet.

“Both hands are severely arthritic; all fingers are curled and barely functioning,” Pieretti wrote.

A spokeswoman from the Bronx District Attorney’s office said the DA has not challenged the examination that found Byrne unable to proceed in his case. Prosecutors have to file a response to the motion by June 19, she said, and the judge will issue a decision July 10.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.