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Robert Brennan named Bishop of Brooklyn, replaces longtime Bishop DiMarzio

Robert J. Brennan, the new Bishop of Brooklyn
Courtesy of the Diocese of Columbus

The Catholic Church has named Robert Brennan as the new Bishop of Brooklyn, replacing the long-tenured and scandal-plagued Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio who has served in the capacity since 2003.

Brennan, 59, is a Bronx native and has served as the Bishop of Columbus, Ohio since 2019.

“I came to know amazing people in the Diocese of Columbus and there is a tremendous sadness in leaving them behind,” Brennan said in a statement. “As I prepare for a return to New York, I am ready and eager to embrace the people of Brooklyn and Queens as their pastor. Knowing we are loved by Jesus, we will strive to show others his face, bearing the Joy of the Gospel and the Splendor of Truth. In the end, that’s what it is all about – in Columbus, Brooklyn, and around the world.”

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop DiMarzio on Wednesday, who submitted his retirement papers back in 2019 upon reaching 75 years of age.

“In the selection of Bishop Robert Brennan, the Holy Father has called upon a native New Yorker to return to lead the faithful of Brooklyn and Queens,” DiMarzio said in a statement. “On behalf of the Diocese of Brooklyn, I welcome Bishop Brennan who I have known for many years, with confidence in his ability to lead our Catholic community and build upon the pastoral achievements we have made. It has truly been an honor to serve as Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn for 18 years.”

Brennan was born in the Bronx and was raised on Long Island. He was ordained as a priest in 1989. Before his service in Columbus, he served as Auxiliary Bishop at the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island.

DiMarzio introduced Brennan at a Wednesday press conference at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights, calling him “kind of the perfect guy for this diocese.”

“He grew up here in New York, he was born in New York City, lived in Long Island,” DiMarzio said. “He knows New York, he is someone familiar with the issues here, he knows a lot of the priests already in the Diocese. So it’s a good assignment I believe for him. He’s young, he’s energetic.”

Outgoing Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, left, and new Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan, rightPhoto by Ben Brachfeld

Brennan said that while he was sad to leave Ohio and all the people he’s grown acquainted with there after a short tenure there, including a “lost year” of COVID, he is excited by the opportunity in Brooklyn and Queens and feels “at home” back in the Empire State.

“There’s tremendous sadness in leaving them behind,” Brennan said. “I pledge to serve you with every bit that I have. There’s no doubt that I have a lot to learn here, and I look forward to that with all my heart.”

New Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan speaks at a press conference at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Brennan said he hopes to bring a “21st century” approach to church governance, including by using social media to spread the gospel to young people who may have lost faith in the church. He also said that the Church’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced churches and other houses of worship to close for months, could be an opportunity to renew its vitality.

“COVID was an unfortunate thing, but it gives us an opportunity to be able to appreciate what we have, and moving forward, to do so with charity, but also to rekindle that fire of faith,” he said.

DiMarzio’s resignation comes just weeks after he was cleared of child sexual abuse charges by an internal church probe; he had stood accused by two men of sexually abusing them when they were altar boys and DiMarzio was a priest in New Jersey in the 70s. The Church and DiMarzio are still facing civil lawsuits in New Jersey under that state’s Child Victims Act. At the press conference, DiMarzio said that the lawsuits had no bearing on his decision to retire.

“My retirement has nothing to do with the investigation,” DiMarzio said. “The investigation was conducted by a former prosecutor and a firm headed by the former head of the FBI, so I think they put their reputation on the line. I think that investigation was second to none and it found there was no evidence of any kind of abuse.”

An attorney for DiMarzio’s accusers told Brooklyn Paper last month that the internal Church probe was “biased” and lacked legitimacy, and said in a statement on Wednesday that the litigation against the retired Bishop will continue.

“The retirement of Bishop DiMarzio will not prevent the two separate civil lawsuits against Bishop DiMarzio from proceeding,” said Attorney Mitchell Garabedian in an emailed statement. Garabedian represents two plaintiffs who have two civil lawsuits against the now-retired bishop, and others, in New Jersey.

“The recent finding of the Vatican clearing Bishop DiMarzio of sexual abuse was the result of a biased investigation rendered by a self-serving Vatican court with a predetermined agenda,” Garabedian said.

Brennan, meanwhile, said he is confident in the results of the Vatican’s “robust” and “carefully done” investigation. Beyond the DiMarzio suit, the Diocese has been sued hundreds of times under New York’s version of the Child Victims Act, which expired earlier this year after a two-year window where statutes of limitations were lifted for child sex abuse victims to bring cases. Four of New York State’s Dioceses — Buffalo, Rochester, Rockville Centre, and Syracuse — have filed for bankruptcy since the implementation of the CVA.

Brennan said that child abuse by priests was “horrendous…lamentable…a cause of great shame,” and “intolerable.” “It’s something that we are working hard to fight, first of all, in preventing it from ever happening again,” he said.

The new Bishop said Brooklyn is “known beyond its borders for having a very, very robust victims’ assistance program,” noting that he looks forward to working with that team, and credited DiMarzio with establishing it.

“While we feel particular shame because the church bears a certain responsibility, it is a societal problem,” Brennan said. “And most of these things are things that have taken place in the past. And we’re really committed to not letting this happen again.”

As for DiMarzio, he said he’ll be occupied in retirement fighting the lawsuits against him.

“That’ll keep me in my retirement busy, I’m sure.”

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