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Bishop Named by Pope to Investigate Abuse Is Accused Himself

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the longtime leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, sexually abused an 11-year-old altar boy during his …

Bishop Named by Pope to Investigate Abuse Is Accused Himself

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the longtime leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, sexually abused an 11-year-old altar boy during his tenure as a young priest in Jersey City in the 1970s, according to a lawyer who helped unleash Boston’s priest abuse scandal.

The lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, told Catholic officials in New Jersey this week that he was preparing a lawsuit on behalf of a client who says he was molested by Bishop DiMarzio more than 40 years ago, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press, which reported the accusation.

In the letter, according to The A.P., Mr. Garabedian says that his client, Mark Matzek, 56, claims that as an altar boy at St. Nicholas Church and a student at St. Nicholas School he was repeatedly abused by Bishop DiMarzio and a second priest, Albert Mark. Father Mark is dead, the letter says.

Bishop DiMarzio, who has led the Brooklyn diocese since 2003, denied the accusation unequivocally in a statement to The A.P.

“In my nearly 50-year ministry as a priest, I have never engaged in unlawful or inappropriate behavior and I categorically deny this allegation,” he said in the statement. “I am confident I will be fully vindicated.”

In a new, longer statement issued by the diocese, which encompasses Brooklyn and Queens, Bishop DiMarzio added, “There will be a legal process now and I will vigorously defend myself against this false allegation.”

Maria Margiotta, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Newark, which includes the Jersey City parish where Bishop DiMarzio was assigned when the abuse is alleged to have happened, confirmed that officials there had received Mr. Garabedian’s letter.

“The archdiocese has reported the matter to, and is cooperating with, law enforcement,” Ms. Margiotta said.

Last month, Pope Francis chose Bishop DiMarzio to investigate the Buffalo, N.Y., diocese, where Bishop Richard J. Malone has come under criticism for his handling of a mushrooming clergy abuse scandal.

Many other Catholic bishops in the United States have found themselves in similar circumstances, but Bishop Malone’s approach may have embroiled him in scandal more so than most of them.

He kept a secret binder that listed priests accused of sexual abuse. He was recorded expressing more concern about his own reputation than about removing a priest whom he called a “sick puppy.” And some of his own clergy have circulated a letter of no-confidence in him as calls mount for his resignation as leader of one of the Northeast’s largest dioceses.

The Brooklyn diocese said on Oct. 31 that Bishop DiMarzio had concluded his investigation into the Buffalo diocese. The inquiry, described as an “apostolic visitation,” involved three trips to Buffalo over seven days and interviews with 80 people, including clergy members and parishioners.

Having completed his interviews, the Brooklyn diocese said, Bishop DiMarzio would prepare a report to be delivered at an unspecified date.

Bishop DiMarzio has a long history of dealing with priest abuse scandals as a church leader.

He arrived in Brooklyn after serving as bishop of the Camden, N.J., diocese. One of his first tasks there was to help settle a scandal over the sexual abuse of children by priests that became public a few years into his tenure. He arranged payments totaling $880,000 to 23 plaintiffs at one point, and fought lawsuits by plaintiffs who would not settle.

In February, the Brooklyn diocese, one of the country’s biggest claiming about 1.5 million adherents, named more than 100 priests that it said had been credibly accused of sexually abusing a child. It was one of the largest disclosures yet in a torrent of lists published by the church as its handling of clergy abuse has drawn the scrutiny of law enforcement officials.

“We know this list will generate many emotions for victims who have suffered terribly,” Bishop DiMarzio said at the time.

“For their suffering, I am truly sorry,” he added. “I have met with many victims who have told me that more than anything, they want an acknowledgment of what was done to them. This list gives that recognition and I hope it will add another layer of healing for them on their journey toward wholeness.”

The release of the list came two years after the diocese publicly identified eight priests who had been defrocked for child sexual abuse offenses, in an effort to protect children who might come into contact with them.

Mr. Garabedian, who gained a measure of fame as a character in the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight,” has also represented abuse victims in the Buffalo diocese. He told The A.P. that “the investigation of the diocese of Buffalo by Bishop DiMarzio is tainted because of these allegations.”

Mr. Garabedian declined to share a copy of his letter to the Newark diocese with The New York Times. In an email, he elaborated on his comments about Bishop DiMarzio’s role in the Buffalo inquiry.

“It is time for the police to investigate the investigator,” Mr. Garabedian said. “The investigation should include questioning Pope Francis about his appointment of the bishop as investigator.”

Mr. Garabedian also said that Bishop DiMarzio, who, like Bishop Malone, was in Rome this week on a previously scheduled trip, should “be immediately placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.”

In his letter to the Newark archdiocese, Mr. Garabedian demanded $20 million in damages for Mr. Matzek.

He told The A.P. that he planned to file the lawsuit on Mr. Matzek’s behalf next month, when New Jersey opens a so-called look-back window of two years. During that time, victims can sue those they accuse of sexual abuse even if their cases expired under previous statutes of limitations.

The two-year period in New Jersey is set to open on Dec 1. New York State’s version of the look-back window opened on Aug. 14 and lasts one year.

Michael Gold contributed reporting.

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