Accused NY priest finally dismissed by diocese
By Stephanie Saul and Loretta Chao - Newsday
Nearly seven years after two brothers alleged they were childhood
sexual abuse victims of their Douglaston priest, the Roman
Catholic Church has permanently barred the priest from ministry.
The removal of the longtime Queens and Brooklyn priest, the
Rev. Joseph Byrns, was announced during weekend Masses at
two of the parishes where Byrns served, St. Anastasia in Douglaston
and St. Rose of Lima in Brooklyn's Parkville section.
In a letter addressed to the congregation at St. Anastasia,
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said Byrns, who has been
on administrative leave, was dismissed from active ministry
after the Queens district attorney's office and Diocesan Review
Board concluded that complaints against him were credible.
"I accepted the board's report and met with Father Byrns,
advising him that he would not be permitted to return to active
priestly ministry," DiMarzio wrote.
End to quest
The announcement marked the end of a arduous quest for Byrns'
removal by brothers Robert Lambert, 48, of Las Vegas, and
the Rev. Timothy Lambert, 46, a Roman Catholic priest in the
Diocese of Metuchen, N.J.
"The permanent removal of this man hopefully ends a
long, painful journey," said Robert Lambert, who is active
in the sexual abuse survivors' group SNAP.
While applauding the removal of Byrns, 61, both brothers
criticized the diocese for not acting more quickly to oust
"My brother and I began this case in 1997, and it took
seven years for them to act on the information that they had
in 1997," Timothy Lambert said Sunday. "I'm just
glad that he's been removed. That's really all my brother
and I really wanted."
Byrns had become friends with the boys during the late 1960s
and early 1970s, when he seemed to fill a void left by their
father's struggle with alcoholism.
Most of his misdeeds, the brothers said, were directed toward
the younger Timothy, a former altar server at St. Anastasia
who said Byrns abused him in the church rectory and also during
a weekend trip to Niagara Falls when they shared a room.
In his letter to parishioners, DiMarzio apologized to Byrns'
victims and all survivors of abuse at the hands of priests.
The diocese offered counseling to any other victims of Byrns
who want to come forward.
The brothers first took their allegations to diocesan officials
in 1997, but then-Bishop Thomas Daily came to Byrns' defense
and allowed him to remain in active ministry for more than
Byrns had vehemently denied the allegations in statements
from the pulpit at St. Rose of Lima, his most recent assignment
as pastor. He has been suspended there since summer 2002,
when Daily removed him pending an investigation.
Daily's decision to temporarily remove Byrns came only after
officials of the Queens district attorney's office told the
diocese that they believed the Lamberts' story.
"Father Byrns, in his own defense, insisted, emphatically
and repeatedly, that the charges were false. At the same time,
the persons who made the claims were equally insistent about
the truthfulness of their allegations," DiMarzio said
in the letter. "The diocesan representatives, after examining
the matter over an extended period of time, found it extremely
difficult to determine where the truth lay in a complex matter."
Byrns could not be reached for comment.
DiMarzio ultimately made the decision to remove Byrns permanently
following an investigation by retired city police detective
Brenda Vincent-Springer, a sex crimes expert hired by the
Vincent-Springer reported her findings last year to a diocesan
panel reviewing abuse allegations, which in turn made recommendation
Under church procedure, the decision had to be approved by
After Mass at St. Anastasia Sunday, some parishioners defended
Byrns, while others said they weren't sure what to believe.
"They said 'found credible.' That's the church's way
of saying 'We can't just stand by our guy,'" said Gino
Albertario, 48, who was married by Byrns. "If this did
occur, I'd want it to go to a court of law. I'd want to see
Father Byrns given a fair trial."
Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.