Defamation Charge Has 'No Merit'

By James Quirk
Asbury Park Press
September 21, 2002

THE Diocese of Trenton has dismissed defamation charges brought by the Rev. Joseph Eremito against a second priest who claimed Emerito had molested him 22 years ago.

The priest, the Rev. John P. Bambrick, pastor of St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church in Manalapan, said he was a teenager when Emerito molested him in 1980.

Since Bambrick made his allegations public in June, newspapers across the country have repeated the story, and Bambrick has also appeared on dozens of prime-time television shows.

Last month, Eremito became the first Roman Catholic priest to attempt to fight allegations of sexual abuse in a canon court. Eremito, currently living in Aberdeen, first enlisted the aid of Monsignor William Varvaro, Promoter of Justice of the Diocese of Brooklyn and a well-known canon lawyer. Shortly thereafter, the Diocese of Trenton received a "letter of information" in which Eremito charged Bambrick with defamation.

In the church's canon law, a letter of information is similar to filing a complaint or suit in civil court. Bishop John M. Smith had to decide if the charges in the letter warranted an investigation.

Vavaro said his defamation case has nothing to do with whether the sexual abuse really took place.

"The case centers around the fact that Father Bambrick is making claims over and over and over again in the media and in public that have not been substantiated," Varvaro said. "Just because you know something doesn't mean you have to say it - that's what this case is about."

This week, Smith wrote to Varvaro "rejecting the claims against Father Bambrick as being without merit," said Steven Emery, diocese spokesman.

Varvaro said yesterday that an appeal to the bishop will be in the mail today. If Smith again refuses to grant a trial, Varvaro said he can - and will - take the appeal process to Rome.

Eremito could not be reached for comment yesterday. Smith is in Africa and could not be reached.

The bishop's decision disappointed Varvaro, who said: "I really think the only way some of these questions will be settled is in a judicial setting."

There is no independent, public corroboration of Bambrick's charges. The church has said Eremito has been severely disciplined at some point in his career and removed from at least two parishes, but it continues to refuse to discuss the case in detail.

"Whether (Bambrick's claims) are true or false, I don't think he should be repeating them over and over again, as he has been doing since June," Varvaro said. "I think to do that harms Father Eremito's reputation."

Bambrick responds

Bambrick responded yesterday that Eremito's counterclaim amounts to "an act of intimidation and harassment on their part - a way to tell me to shut up and silence me, which is exactly what sexual abuse is all about. It's all about arrogance and control."

Bambrick said the diocese has always believed his claims to be true. Emery said he would not comment on that aspect.

Bambrick, now 37, charges that at the age of 15 he was molested by Eremito, who was then saying Masses as St. Joseph's in Keyport, for a period of six months. Bambrick told no one of the abuse until 1991, when he was struggling with his own aspiration to become a priest. Ultimately, Bambrick entered the priesthood and vowed to prevent Eremito from victimizing anyone else.

In 1991, while Eremito was pastor at Holy Cross Church on 42nd Street in Manhattan, Bambrick said he anonymously informed the Archdiocese of New York of his abuse. Two years later, Bambrick said he contacted then-Cardinal John O'Connor and informed him of Eremito's actions. Bambrick was told by diocese officials that they were prosecuting Eremito in the church's courts.

Bambrick says his were not the only charges leveled at Eremito. The Archdiocese of New York told him there were close to a dozen more accusations, but would never elaborate on them. Eremito professed his innocence, Bambrick was told. Under canon law, those records are secret.

According to Bambrick, the church's case against Eremito eventually went to the Apostolic Signatora, the Roman Catholic Church's highest court, located in the Vatican. There, the court ruled against Eremito, Bambrick said.

In previous interviews, Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York, stated Eremito has been instructed "to not serve as priest or act as a priest." Yet between Easter of 1997 and May 1998, Eremito served as a priest at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Atlantic Highlands. In 1998, Bambrick discovered this, and notified the Archdiocese of New York, which asked Eremito to leave St. Agnes, Zwilling said.

Leaves Texas post

Eremito next took a position as chaplain of Covenant Health System in Lubbock, Texas. He resigned there on July 4, said Eddie Owns, the organization's director of public relations, partly because of the media's reports of Bambrick's claims.

"When I found out that (Eremito) was in ministry again this year, that was unacceptable to me," Bambrick said, explaining why he went public with his claims. "So my objective was to help other kids. In my mind, he still has the potential to do what he did to me to others. There is no other reason for me to come forward. It's embarrassing, it's uncomfortable - but he doesn't serve a ministry now. At least I know he won't have access to kids through the church. No one should have to suffer the anguish I have suffered."


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