Suit: Church used its ‘Vito’ power

John Aretakis (with phone) and Rev. Robert Hoatson are suing the Diocese of Brooklyn for supporting Assemblyman Vito Lopez with automated phonecalls last month.
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

A major atheist group and a priest are suing the borough’s Catholic leadership, alleging that the church violated its tax-free status by making thousands of pre-recorded calls during the November election campaign that endorsed candidates favored by Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

Nobody’s denying that the so-called “robocalls” supporting Lopez — with the voice of Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio himself — were placed to voters a couple days before the Nov. 3 general election. But the lawsuit will determine whether the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn overstepped its legal boundaries when it mentioned Lopez, the county’s Democrat Party boss and a Democratic assemblyman from Bushwick, in automated calls to thousands of Brooklynites.

The suit also accuses the Diocese of placing the calls as a favor to Lopez, who, earlier this year, supported the church by opposing legislation that would give alleged sex-abuse victims more time to file old claims.

There is one a massive problem with the suit: no one has a actual transcript of any of the calls. As a result, this lawsuit is one big game of “He Said, Vito Said.”

Lopez shrugged off the lawsuit.

“The church thanked me [in the calls] for supporting them on [the legislation], and that’s all,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter — I’m a third party in this. How can I control what the bishop releases?”

DiMarzio and a Diocese spokesman did not return calls in time for The Brooklyn Paper’s catholic online deadlines.

The parties that filed the lawsuits — including lawyer John Aretakis, Rev. Robert Hoatson, and NYC Atheists President Kenneth Bronstein — admit that they haven’t heard the robocall and are making their claim on a November article in the New York Times that said DiMarzio openly supported Lopez in an “unusually overt step into politics by a religious leader.”

Aretakis also claims that Lopez is lying about his involvement.

“[Lopez] engaged in illegal quid pro quo with [the church], where DiMarzio would [support] Vito’s slate of candidates,” alleged Aretakis, a suspended lawyer who formerly handled clergy cases. “They paid him back for voting against [the abuse legislation], which probably saved the church millions in lawsuits.”

Lopez scoffed at the allegations and said one listen to the robocall will prove his case. Those juicy tidbits may become Exhibit A in the case — if it gets that far.

Did the Broklyn Diocese break the law by making “robo-calls” in support of Assemblyman Vito Lopez?
The Brooklyn Paper / Aaron Greenhood

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