Gentle Priest in Purgatory : Mounting Molest Charges Besiege Qns. AE Father Bud'

By Linda Stasi
New York Post
April 22, 2002

FATHER James Smith, of St. Kevin Church in Flushing, had a nice life for a guy nearing 70 - a parish that loved him, a little house in Amityville, L.I., and a boat in which he'd take the parish kids out fishing.

On weekends, he'd invite troubled parishioners and street kids to his family's and his friends' homes for dinner.

Now he's been suspended from his duties and is in a secret facility for troubled Catholic clergy, trying to dig into his past and awaiting word on his future. I know this because we've spoken at length.

Father Smith - "Father Bud" to those closest to him - is accused of sexually molesting kids.

On his trail like a scent hound on fresh kill is Queens attorney Michael Dowd, who, oddly enough, was once suspended himself - from the bar for misconduct in the Donald Manes debacle.

Word is that Dowd has already dug up 30 or more accusations against the Flushing priest.

Father Bud spoke to me after being urged to do so by family, friends and the very kids he used to fish with - because they believe he's being thrown overboard with a cement pail tied around his neck and is sinking very quickly.

Smith literally appears to be incapable of defending himself because, for starters, he believes he never did any of it - and said in fact, "I don't want to pretend to be completely innocent."

Then, somewhat befuddled by the circumstances he now finds himself in, he said, "I don't know if I am or not. I just do not remember such things ever occurring. God forbid somebody comes up with something from the deep past - but even the names I've heard so far are not names I've ever heard. I've not been shown any pictures [of accusers]. I just don't understand."

Father Bud's life began to crumble three years ago when a male prostitute in Miami with a crack habit that wouldn't quit went to church officials and accused the priest of childhood sexual abuse. No matter that it was a 30-year-old accusation, nor that the crack addict, when questioned, said he wasn't even sure it actually had happened, it was enough to begin the downward spiral.

"The church offered to fly me down to confront my accuser, but they never did. Then on March 5th [of this year], there was another allegation, and then a third one came in," he continued, recalling the events that led to his confinement in the secret counseling facility.

"There was another boy - I did not recognize the name or ever remember meeting [him]. So they sent me here for psychological evaluation. They tested me, and finally the conclusion they came to was that I was attracted to women and older female teens. I haven't been a saint, but I haven't been a child molester, either. I am not the monster they say I am."

A letter from Bishop Thomas Daily, head of the Brooklyn Diocese, was read during Masses in the diocese on April 6 and 7, advising parishioners of the allegations against Smith. Daily's letter stressed that Smith had denied the abuse allegations that involved "inappropriate sexual contact" with three minors at other parishes more than 20 years ago.

"This does not negate all of the good and dedicated priestly service that Father Smith has offered in our diocese," Daily's letter said.

When Smith's friend Mary Ann DiBari, an attorney and close friend for 40 years, as well as a mother of six and grandmother of 18, heard the accusations, she was aghast.

"I suggested to him [Father Bud] that he take a polygraph test and that I go with him. I took him to the Employees Screening Services, a very trusted firm. He took it, and yes, he passed with flying colors," DiBari said.

"I wanted to go to the bishop in his defense, but was reassured over and over [by church officials] that an attorney shouldn't be present because there was no criminal evidence against him. None. Father seems to forget that he has rights."

Smith, confused and concerned, asked, "Are they holding onto things they haven't let me in on? I'm just wondering what I'm caught up in. The doctors here say I'm blocking it out, but I'm angry, too. I feel like a scapegoat."

DiBari, whose children spent countless hours with Father Bud growing up, including weekends fishing with him and staying at his Amityville home, thinks she understands perfectly well what's up.

"It's a crucifixion," she said. "And the victims here are not only the children but many of the innocent priests who're getting caught up in the maelstrom. The church will do anything to avoid scandal - and everyone knows it has deep pockets. Complainants have a place to go - if they want justice - it's called the police. Instead, they went to the church. It's not about the expulsion of priests - it's about big-bucks lawsuits."

Meantime, Smith is on medication and spends his days trying to uncover what he may have forgotten.

"I go to meetings, lectures, group sharing and Mass. I have a private room. We're not free to go anywhere without permission, but with permission, I can go to a baseball game or the mall. They have listed me as depressed and as a passive potential suicide."

I asked him if he felt suicidal being unable to defend himself against claims for which he seems to have no memory. "I don't think so - I'm just so very sorry this has caused such upset in the parishes in which I've worked. I pray that they trust that I am not a monster and would trust that they know me better than this."

DiBari says Smith's troubles stem from his desire to help society's bottom feeders.

"Sometimes they turn on you. It's not like in the movies," she said. "Believe me, I've been an attorney a long time - and I would not under any circumstances defend a pedophile - not in court and not in the press. Unfortunately, my friend is being tried, convicted, executed or destroyed in the press with no recourse. It's a horror. Instead of their fear of fomenting a scandal, the church should have gone to the authorities in every case."

Father Bud said if he could talk to young priests today, he'd tell them to be careful. "They're often assigned to working with young kids - where we play, roughhouse with them. People are so litigious today that things can so easily be misconstrued. Keep your hands off! As one priest here said, aeWe just shake hands from now on!' "


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