September 1, 2021
By Anne Barrett Doyle
Brooklyn bishop Nicholas DiMarzio was first accused of child sexual abuse in November 2019. A second alleged victim came forward in June 2020. Today, 21 months after the first complainant came forward, we learned that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found the allegations “not to have the semblance of truth” and so not worthy of a full canonical trial.
This sweeping dismissal of the alleged victims reflects the skepticism that Cardinal Timothy Dolan expressed at the outset of the Church’s probe, which was conducted under the Pope’s 2019 law, Vos Estis Lux Mundi.
We question the objectivity of the Church’s process. Four aspects of it were troubling: 1) Cardinal Dolan’s public comments in support of DiMarzio, 2) the lack of independence of the so-called independent investigators, 3) the Pope’s approval of DiMarzio’s staying in office while under investigation, and 4) the Church’s lack of transparency.
1. Cardinal Dolan should not have headed the investigation. Bishop DiMarzio is the cardinal’s neighbor, colleague and, by the cardinal’s own admission, “good friend;” the two have worked closely together for years. In a January 2020 podcast, Cardinal Dolan talked about being tasked by the Vatican to investigate DiMarzio. Dolan said:
“[I] love the guy, he’s a good friend. He’s never had an accusation against him in his whole life, but in November  somebody made an accusation from way way way way way way back, 48 years or so ago, and as much as Bishop DiMarzio said this is preposterous, this is ridiculous, this is unjust, darn it, we have to take it seriously.”
http://cardinaldolan.org/index.php/conversations-with-cardinal-dolan-january-21-2020/ [comments begin at 9:50 mark]
Dolan should have recused himself.
2. Some say that Dolan met the requirement of impartiality by hiring laypeople with excellent credentials to do the actual inquiry. We respectfully disagree. The history of the crisis has many examples of hired outsiders with good reputations being hindered in their examination of the church’s handling of abuse.
While we don’t doubt the integrity of New York attorney John O’Donnell and former FBI director Louis Freeh, in the end, they were hired hands, bound to confidentiality and likely without access to secret files. This hardly qualifies them as independent. They had no way of knowing if church officials were withholding possibly relevant documents in the Newark and Brooklyn dioceses and in the papal nuncio’s office. And even if their investigation was thorough, only Cardinal Dolan had the power to filter and interpret the evidence before sending his judgment, or “votum,” to the Vatican.
3. It’s disturbing that DiMarzio wasn’t forced to step aside as Brooklyn bishop during the investigation. By allowing DiMarzio to stay in office despite two allegations, Cardinal Dolan and Pope Francis sent the message that DiMarzio remained in their good graces. Accused priests are placed on leave during abuse investigations, and DiMarzio should have been too. Allowing him to remain in office inevitably biased the investigation by: a) diminishing the investigators’ independence (they were investigating the person who controlled at least some of the files they needed), b) likely discouraging some witnesses and inhibiting others, and c) affording DiMarzio’s own testimony a gravitas that was prejudicial.
4. The process was not transparent. The NY archdiocese’s terse statement today leaves basic questions unanswered. If the allegations were so patently untrue, why did the process take so long? How many witnesses did the lay investigators interview? Were O’Donnell and Freeh given full access to all diocesan files, including the secret archives? Were the alleged victims interviewed?
The investigators’ full report, Dolan’s votum, and the CDF decree should all be made public.
The Church’s handling of the allegations against DiMarzio reflects the inadequacy of Vos Estis Lux Mundi. Consider the choices Pope Francis made when he crafted it. He prioritized insularity and containment, keeping the hierarchy in total control of the reporting and investigative process. He limited lay involvement to roles that are fragmented, powerless and almost certainly bound by confidentiality. He chose NOT to require notifying civil authorities, and he chose to omit transparency – Vos Estis includes no obligation to notify the public.
Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director, BishopAccountability.org
Founded in 2003 and based near Boston, Massachusetts, USA, BishopAccountability.org is a large online archive of documents, reports, and news articles documenting the global abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. An independent non-profit, it is not a victims’ advocacy group and is not affiliated with any church, reform, or victims’ organization.