Nearly five years after first receiving sexual abuse allegations against the Rev. Joseph Byrns, the Diocese of Brooklyn took action on Friday against the charismatic priest, indefinitely suspending him as pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Brooklyn.
Bishop Thomas Daily also rescinded Byrns’ right to say mass publicly, reversing his prior staunch support of the 59-year-old pastor.
Daily, who has been criticized for his stewardship of sexual abuse cases when he served in the Boston archdiocese, said the decision to remove Byrns was based on the allegations made by the Rev. Timothy Lambert, a New Jersey priest, and his brother, Robert.
The Lamberts allege that Byrns molested them three decades ago when they were young boys growing up in Douglaston. At that time, Bryns was was assigned to St. Anastasia Church.
Byrns, who had established successful youth programs at his Parkville church and drew strong support from his parishioners, did not return calls from Newsday Friday.
But, during a mass shortly after the Lamberts’ claims were made public in March, he steadfastly denied them. It was based on those denials that Daily kept him in his job, according to Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for the diocese. Daily’s reversal followed intervention from Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
Two weeks ago, representatives of Brown’s office told diocesan officials that they had found credibility in the Lamberts’ allegations, even though they were too old to prosecute, according to a source close to the discussion. Brown declined to comment Friday.
Reacting to Daily’s decision, the Rev. Timothy Lambert, a priest in the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., expressed happiness that Byrns had been removed, but regret that it took so long for the Diocese to act.
“Five years have passed since the the diocese received our complaint,” said the Rev. Lambert. “In that time, I’ve been ignored and deceived by its officials. It saddens me to know that the Bishop needed civil pressure to take the appropriate just and moral action. I’m relieved that he finally did.”
Lambert, 44, first notified the diocese in 1998 that he had been repeatedly molested by Byrns over a three-year period in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
His brother, Robert Lambert, 46, said he, also, was molested by Byrns as a child.
The diocese has turned over more than 30 names of priests to prosecutors in the diocese, which includes both Queens and Brooklyn.
He has removed an undisclosed number of priests since the church sex abuse scandal began earlier this year.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops endorsed a policy last month that requires the removal of priests who have credible sexual abuse allegations filed against them, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.