Church clears Brooklyn Bishop of wrongdoing, attorney calls probe ‘biased’

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
File photo

An internal probe by the Catholic Church has cleared Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of wrongdoing in a pair of decades-old sexual abuse allegations, but lawyers for his accusers say the investigation was a sham, and that they will continue to pursue legal action in court.

DiMarzio, 77, was accused in 2019 of sexual abuse dating back to his time as a priest in Jersey City, New Jersey in the 1970s. Mark Matzek, of New Jersey, said that DiMarzio had sexually abused him when he was between 11 and 12 years old over a year-long period in 1974 and 1975, while he was an altar boy and a student at St. Nicholas Church in Jersey City. A second accuser, Samier Tadros, came forward in 2020 claiming that DiMarzio had sexually abused him when he was just six years old at Jersey City’s Holy Rosary Church.

DiMarzio, who has been Bishop of Brooklyn since 2003, denied all wrongdoing, and said the results of the Church probe, which found the allegations against him “not to have the semblance of truth,” vindicated him.

“I repeat what I have said from the beginning. There is no truth to these allegations,” DiMarzio said in a statement Wednesday. “Throughout my more than 50-year ministry as a priest, I have never abused anyone. As promised, I fully cooperated with this inquiry, because I know I did nothing wrong. I have prayed for a conclusion to this investigation, and these final results further verify, as I have consistently said, that these allegations have absolutely no merit.”

“I remain focused on leading the Diocese of Brooklyn as we are emerging from the darkness of the Coronavirus pandemic,” DiMarzio continued. “I ask for your prayers as I continue to fight against the lawsuits stemming from these two allegations, and as I now look forward to clearing my name in the New Jersey state courts.”

A spokesperson for the Brooklyn Diocese did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

The internal Church probe was conducted under a new system for investigating sexual abuse by priests, implemented by Pope Francis just months before the accusations against DiMarzio in an apostolic letter known as “Vos Estis Lux Mundi.”

As part of Vos Estis, a tip line was set up to report abuse, and all reports were immediately brought to the “Metropolitan” diocese where the alleged abuse occurred. That diocese then reports the allegation to the Vatican, which can authorize an internal investigation by the local Archdiocese. Once the Diocese’s investigation concludes, the results are sent back to the Vatican’s “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” to render a final decision.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, oversaw the investigation into DiMarzio. Dolan hired former federal prosecutor John O’Donnell and former FBI Director Louis Freeh to conduct the investigative work. DiMarzio’s attorney, Joseph Hayden Jr, said the fact that former federal law enforcement officials were conducting the investigation should dispel any concerns about the probe’s impartiality and thoroughness.

“Both are former law enforcement officials with proven experience and impeccable integrity and the result of their investigation should leave no doubt,” Hayden said.

Mitchell Garabedian, the attorney representing Matzek and Tadros in civil suits in New Jersey, said that the results of the investigation had no legitimacy, however, because the probe and its investigators were “controlled by and paid for by the Catholic Church.”

“The investigations concerning the credibility of my clients were subjective and biased because the investigators were controlled by and paid for by the Catholic Church,” Garabedian said in a statement. “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which rendered the decision, is in the business of continuing the secrecy of clergy sexual abuse by hiding the truth. My clients will continue to pursue their claims in the civil courts and justice will prevail when the truth is revealed.”

Garabedian, who has represented hundreds of sexual abuse victims in suits against high profile abusers or institutions such as the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, and Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, said that Vos Estis was little more than the Church investigating itself, finding no wrongdoing, and then going into PR overdrive to protect itself.

“I think the Catholic Church is practicing spin control and a public relations stunt that will just backfire on them,” Garabedian told Brooklyn Paper in an interview. “The determination by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will have absolutely no weight in the civil suits. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is a biased entity of the Catholic Church.”

The New Jersey civil suits were filed under that state’s Child Victims Act, which allowed adult victims of child abuse a two-year window to file lawsuits even if the previous statute of limitations had long since expired. New Jersey’s statute is similar to New York’s, which passed in 2019 and expired last month with nearly 10,000 cases filed, including hundreds against the Brooklyn Diocese.

The Catholic Church, which over the past twenty years has weathered innumerable accusations of child sexual abuse by priests, was one of the strongest opponents of the Child Victims Act before its passage owing to the inevitable ocean of suits it would face if the measure became law. Two years later, four of New York State’s eight Catholic dioceses — Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Rockville Centre — have filed for bankruptcy.