Suit: Church used its ‘Vito’ power

Suit: Church used its ‘Vito’ power
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