Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio is strongly refuting an allegation that he sexually abused a minor in the 1970s while he was still a priest in the archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey.

“I am just learning of this allegation,” DiMarzio said in a statement sent to the priests of the Diocese of Brooklyn on Nov. 12. “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.”

DiMarzio’s statement comes in response to lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who has notified the Archdiocese of Newark that he intends to sue for damages of $20 million next month when New Jersey opens its two-year “look-back” window that will allow sex abuse victims to file lawsuits without a statute of limitations.

A report from the Associated Press on Nov. 13 based on Garabedian’s notice, claims that when DiMarzio was a priest at St. Nicholas Parish in Jersey City that he repeatedly abused now 56-year-old Mark Matzek when Matzek was an altar boy at the church. The alleged victim also claims he was abused by a second priest, the late Father Albert Mark.

DiMarzio submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Francis in June as required by church law when a bishop turns 75. Francis, however, has yet to accept the resignation.

In early October, DiMarzio was appointed by the Vatican to lead an investigation into the Diocese of Buffalo’s embattled Bishop Richard Malone, who has been accused of covering up clerical sexual abuse of minors. DiMarzio completed his investigation late last month, and his report will be submitted to Francis for a review and findings of fact.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Francis’s representative to the United States, told The Tablet last month that the pope’s decision to appoint DiMarzio to investigate Malone was “a sign of trust.”

Born in Newark in 1944, DiMarzio is the grandson of Italian immigrants, and he has long been outspoken in defense of immigrant rights. He has dealt with the abuse scandals since the late 1990s, when he was appointed as bishop of the Diocese of Camden, N.J., where he established an outside phone line to allow potential victims to report abuse directly to the local district attorney, bypassing any involvement by the church.

Since 2002, the Brooklyn diocese has shared all of its files and allegations against priests with the district attorneys of Brooklyn and Queens. In 2004, DiMarzio established a telephone hotline for anyone to report allegations of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy.

In 2009, DiMarzio published a presentation that outlined the diocese of Brooklyn’s efforts to investigate and report abuse and described the diocese’s protocol regarding accountability, reconciliation, prevention and victim assistance. DiMarzio also celebrates an annual Mass for healing that is planned by victim-survivors.

In February, DiMarzio authorized the release of the names of 108 priests from the diocese credibly accused of child abuse over the diocese’s 166-year history. The bulk of cases involved priests ordained between 1930 and 1979. The diocese said there have been just two local cases since the U.S. Church enacted reforms in 2002.

DiMarzio said at the time he hoped that making the names public would provide a layer of healing for victims “on their journey toward wholeness.” Over the past year, DiMarzio has held regional meetings throughout the diocese to provide a forum for candid questions about the abuse scandals.

“It is very important that the leadership in our parishes understands this very complex and very difficult issue,” DiMarzio said at the beginning of a listening session held at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Flatlands last November.

In an interview with Crux in late September, DiMarzio said that his conversations with abuse survivors over the years have been “shattering.”

“Reconciliation isn’t just putting money in somebody’s pocket,” DiMarzio said. “It’s an apology on behalf of the Church by somebody in authority.”

Along with the rest of the bishops of New York state, DiMarzio is in Rome this week for ad limina meetings with the Roman Curia, as well as an audience with Francis.

Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212 

Crux is dedicated to smart, wired and independent reporting on the Vatican and worldwide Catholic Church. That kind of reporting doesn’t come cheap, and we need your support. You can help Crux by giving a small amount monthly, or with a onetime gift. Please remember, Crux is a for-profit organization, so contributions are not tax-deductible.