By Tim Harfmann
Father Junhee Lee was one of many priests across the Brooklyn Diocese who read a letter from Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio during Mass this past weekend.
At Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, parishioners reacted to the news that Bishop DiMarzio is being accused of sexual abuse against an altar boy when he was a priest in New Jersey in the 1970s.
“If he’s proven guilty, then he will face the music,” said parishioner Laura Caccavale
“It is true? I find it so far fetched,” said Vincent Patuto.
The Bishop of Brooklyn is strongly refuting that allegation from nearly half a century ago.
“I am just learning of this allegation,” Bishop DiMarzio said in a statement. “In my nearly 50-year ministry as a priest, I have never engaged in unlawful or inappropriate behavior and I categorically deny this allegation. I am confident I will be fully vindicated.”
The Associated Press reported the story on Nov. 13, alleging Bishop DiMarzio and a second priest, now dead, repeatedly abused Mark Matzek as a child at St. Nicholas Church in Jersey City.
According to that report, a lawsuit may be filed next month.
Deacon Phil Franco was abused as a child himself and said Bishop DiMarzio has been at the forefront of listening to victims and protecting children of any further abuse.
“I confidentially could stand here as a survivor who both condemns abuse, but at the same time is very willing to stand up for this man, who I believe is innocent,” said Deacon Franco.
The accusation comes on the heels of Bishop DiMarzio completing his Vatican-appointed examination into the Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, for allegations that Bishop Malone failed to report abusive priests.
Bishop DiMarzio was in Rome last week, about to present his report on the fact-finding mission to the pope, when the abuse allegation from the law offices of Mitchell Garabedian came out.
“I would dare to say that anybody who has been chosen to do something like that, it takes a great deal of trust on the part of the Holy Father,” said Father Anthony Sansone, pastor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Ridgewood, Queens.
He and parishioners were shocked to hear the news.
“We support our bishop. He’s a good man. He’s been working years, tirelessly,” said church parishioner Henry Macchiaroli.
Deacon Franco said false allegations could be damaging to a man who has devoted so much of his ministry to fighting sex abuse.
“It’s extremely unfair to the priests, who in these cases of false accusations are innocent; and it’s unfair to those who are legitimate victims,” he explained.
Bishop DiMarzio’s letter to parishioners was posted on the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Facebook page, where similar support can be seen.
Bishop DiMarzio is vowing to vigorously defend himself against what he’s calling “false allegations.”