Listen to this story:
NEW YORK – Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn has been exonerated by a Vatican-ordered investigation of sexual abuse allegations that date back nearly a half-century.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced Sept. 1 that it found the allegations “not to have the semblance of truth” after a year-plus-long independent investigation.
“I repeat what I have said from the beginning. There is no truth to these allegations,” DiMarzio said in a statement on Sept. 1. “Throughout my more than 50-year ministry as a priest, I have never abused anyone.”
Given this finding, the Vatican will not authorize any further canonical process to address the allegations. The investigation will not affect the status of the two civil lawsuits that claim DiMarzio abused two minors while he was a young priest in the Archdiocese of Newark.
The lawsuits were possible because of New Jersey’s Child Victims Act. The law, which went into effect in December 2019, temporarily rolled back the statute of limitations allowing alleged victims of sexual abuse to file civil suits against organizations. That window closed on Aug. 14.
The Vatican investigation into the two allegations took place under the new procedures for bishop accountability, known as Vos Estis Lux Mundi, and mandates that any allegation of abuse against a bishop must be investigated. The Metropolitan of the region, who is the head bishop of an ecclesiastical province (in this case, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York), oversees a Vos Estis investigation.
Dolan retained New York attorney John O’Donnell and the law firm of Herbert Smith Freehills to conduct the investigation. The law firm then hired former FBI Director Louis Freeh to conduct the third-party investigation.
Joseph A. Hayden, Jr., the lawyer representing DiMarzio, noted in a Sept. 1 statement that O’Donnell and Freeh are both former law enforcement officials with proven experience and impeccable integrity, therefore, “the result of their investigation should leave no doubt.”
DiMarzio has denied both accusations from the start, calling it an attempt to “smear” his 50-year ministry as a priest. He stated on Sept. 1 that he fully cooperated with the investigation, knowing he did nothing wrong.
“I have prayed for a conclusion to this investigation, and these final results further verify, as I have consistently said, that these allegations have absolutely no merit,” DiMarzio said.
The first allegation made against DiMarzio was that he sexually abused an altar boy in a New Jersey church in the 1970s. The accuser, Mark Matzek, 57, went public with the allegation in November 2019, before filing a lawsuit this past March.
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian announced Matzek’s claim shortly after DiMarzio concluded an apostolic visitation to the Diocese of Buffalo — where he was asked by the Vatican — to look into claims of the mishandling of sexual abuse claims there. Before the results of that inquiry were made public, Garabedian said the investigation was tainted because DiMarzio had now been accused himself. At the time, Garabedian was representing several clients filing sexual abuse lawsuits against the Diocese of Buffalo. The findings of DiMarzio’s visit led to the resignation of Bishop Richard Malone.
Garabedian also represents Samier Tadros, 47, who filed a separate claim against DiMarzio in February, accusing him of sexual abuse in the 1970s at a different New Jersey church.
Garabedian claims he represents dozens of other plaintiffs in New Jersey claiming to have been sexually abused by priests. He has filed a number of lawsuits in several jurisdictions over the years. Each suit seeks $20 million in damages.
Garabedian was largely dismissive of the Vatican ruling in a brief comment to Crux.
“The Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith is a biased entity under the control of the Catholic Church, which has fully supported the secrecy and denial of clergy sex abuse for decades,” he said.
In his Sept. 1 statement, DiMarzio said he now looks forward to clearing his name in the civil suits pending in New Jersey courts.
“I ask for your prayers as I continue to fight against the lawsuits stemming from these two allegations,” DiMarzio said.
With DiMarzio’s Vatican investigation closed, there are still at least four Vos Estis investigations pending against U.S. prelates for allegations of sexual abuse, or negligence in reporting clerical sexual abuse allegations.
Bishop John Brungardt of Dodge City, Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose, and retired Albany bishops Howard Hubbard and Edward Grosz are the subjects of those Vos Estis investigations.
The first Vos Estis investigation with standing in the U.S. concluded earlier this year after the Vatican looked into an allegation that Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Minnesota, mishandled accusations of clergy sex abuse in his diocese. As a result of the findings, Hoeppner resigned at the request of Pope Francis on April 13.
Retired Bishop Joseph Hart, formerly of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming, was accused of 12 allegations of abuse. In January, a Vos Estis investigation exonerated the bishop on seven of the allegations and concluded that five others “could not be proven with moral certitude.” The Vatican also issued a canonical rebuke to Hart citing he acted irresponsibly in certain situations that could have given “rise to scandal among the faithful.”
There have also been at least five prelates in Poland who have resigned or been sanctioned following Vos Estis investigations, including three since the end of May.
Retired Bishop Jan Tyrawa of Bydgoszcz submitted his resignation at the end of an investigation into accusations of negligence in handling cases of clergy sexual abuse in his diocese, which Pope Francis accepted in May.
Retired Bishop Tadeusz Rakoczy of Bielsko-Żywiec, was sanctioned by the Vatican in May, and retired Archbishop Marian Gołębiewski of Wrocław in August, after Vos Estis investigations into accusations of mishandling clergy sexual abuse cases in their dioceses. They were both ordered “to live a life in a spirit of penance and prayer,” donate to an organization that works to prevent abuse and assist abuse victims and barred from certain public settings.
As a result of other Vos Estis investigations into negligence in reporting allegations of abuse, the Vatican also barred retired Polish prelates Archbishop Sławoj Leszek Głódź of Gdańsk and Bishop Edward Janiak of Kalisz from participating in public liturgies, ordered them to live outside of the diocese and give personal funds to abuse prevention organizations as sanctions.
DiMarzio said he remains focused on leading the Diocese of Brooklyn while he defends himself against the civil lawsuits.
In Tadros’s lawsuit, he claims that DiMarzio abused him while he received one-to-one religious instruction from then-Father DiMarzio, who lived at Holy Rosary Church, Jersey City.
In his denial of that allegation, DiMarzio pointed out that Tadros did not attend the parish, or parish school, and doesn’t appear to be Catholic.
“Anyone with a minimal understanding of parish life knows that it stretches the imagination to think a priest would be providing private catechism lessons to a non-Catholic six- or seven-year-old on a one-to-one basis,” DiMarzio stated at the time.
In Matzek’s lawsuit, he alleges that DiMarzio and another priest, Father Albert Mark, repeatedly abused him when he was an altar boy at St. Nicholas Church in Jersey City from 1973 to 1976. Mark died in 1996.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg