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Accused NY priest finally dismissed by diocese

By Stephanie Saul and Loretta Chao - Newsday
June, 2004

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 Byrns.

"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 four years.

Charges denied

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 diocese.

Vincent-Springer reported her findings last year to a diocesan panel reviewing abuse allegations, which in turn made recommendation to DiMarzio.

Under church procedure, the decision had to be approved by the Vatican.

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.


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
www.snapnetwork.org

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