Today’s news:

Douglaston priest accused of sex abuse of brothers

New accusations of abuse made public last week brought the Roman Catholic priest scandal home to northeast Queens, when a two brothers alleged that a priest working at St. Anastasia’s Church in Douglaston molested them in the early 1970s.

The brothers, one of whom is now a priest, contend the Rev. Joseph Byrns abused both of them as children for several years when he presided at St. Anastasia’s on 245th Street and Northern Boulevard.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens said the diocese investigated the accusations and found Byrns’ “strong and vehement denials” of the charges credible and took no action against him. Byrns could not be reached for comment.

Father Timothy Lambert and his brother Robert said Bishop Thomas Daily, who leads the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens and has been accused of transferring priests suspected of abuse from parish to parish, failed to keep them informed about their case. The brothers first went to the diocese in 1999 with their accusations.

While the Lamberts, who now live in New Jersey and Nevada, went public to raise awareness about their case recently, it is a battle Daniel Dugo of Bayside has been fighting for more than two years.

In March 2000 Dugo charged that a Brooklyn priest had molested him when he was 8 and later moved to Bayside. At the time, Dugo struggled to raise public awareness about his alleged abuser.

Watching the molestation scandal gain intense public scrutiny in the last several weeks, Dugo said, has been “emotional.”

“I think it hasn’t begun,” said Dugo, who believes the number of cases revealed so far nationwide reflect only the tip of the iceberg.

In July 2001, Dugo filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn against the Roman Catholic Church for negligence in supervising and failing to report the alleged actions of the priest.

The lawsuit names Father Patrick Sexton, formerly of St. Cecilia’s Church in Brooklyn, as his abuser and says the incidents took place in 1979.

A statement from Daily in 2000 about Dugo’s allegations against Sexton, who could not be located for comment , said Sexton requested a leave of absence from the priesthood in 1990.

“Faced with the allegation, we undertook an investigation into the matter,” Daily said of Dugo’s claims. “We received an insistent denial on the part of the priest.”

Although his lawsuit was dismissed Jan. 17 because the statute of limitations had expired, Dugo said in an interview this week he will not stop working to make the Roman Catholic Church face up to the issue of child molestation by priests.

“If they’re not going to take the steps themselves to change it, then someone’s got to do it,” he said.

The pedophile scandal came to light recently because of a case in which a Boston priest, John Geoghan, allegedly abused more than 100 children after being transferred from parish to parish as accusations arose against him. The Roman Catholic Church has been accused of protecting suspected priests by transferring them and not keeping victims informed of the church’s investigations of abuse complaints.

Daily has drawn increasing attention because he was a bishop in the Boston diocese when Geoghan was being transferred.

Byrns, the priest accused by the Lamberts, has continued working at St. Rose of Lima Church in Brooklyn.

Frank DeRosa, the spokesman for the Brooklyn and Queens Diocese, said Byrns served at St. Anastasia’s from 1969 to 1983 before becoming the spiritual director of the Monti Christi High School in Astoria.

“We did an investigation of both the Lamberts and Father Byrns,” DeRosa said. “We felt Byrns’ strong and vehement denials of the charges established his credibility.”

Timothy Lambert, who took a leave of absence from his New Jersey diocese in 1999, said he was most surprised by Daily’s reluctance to believe accusations made against a priest by a priest.

“I’m someone on the inside and they didn’t believe me,” Lambert said in a recent interview with CBS. “You can say it’s misconduct and it’s this and it’s that — it’s a crime.”

While Robert Lambert could not be reached for comment as of press time Tuesday, Timothy Lambert alleged last week that Byrns’ abuse of him and his brother began when the priest took the pair on a trip to Niagara Falls.

“He molested me in the room we were staying in,” Lambert told CBS. “And that began the molestation that lasted three to four years.”

Byrns strongly denied the charges at his mass Sunday and asked his Brooklyn parishioners to pray for the Lamberts, published reports said.

In some ways, the Lamberts’ claims of abuse mirrors Dugo’s experience. Both were in families with strong Catholic roots and with absentee fathers.

In his lawsuit, Dugo said he was sexually abused by Sexton after the priest convinced him to join the youth choir at St. Cecilia’s Church. The abuse occurred between May and September 1979, according to the lawsuit. In the document Dugo said Sexton threatened to put him in a foster home if he revealed the abuse to anyone.

Dugo first took his case to the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens in 2000, and at that time attorneys for the church offered him a settlement of $15,000 but only if he remained silent about his accusations. Dugo rejected the settlement.

“I consider the silence of the church, I refer to it as the ‘black wall of silence,’” Dugo said this week.

The Bayside man has been waging a campaign for awareness and legislation to make it easier for victims to build cases against their abusers, including extending the statute of limitations on abuse charges and making it mandatory for clergy to report sexual abuse of a child. Dugo said the statute of limitations on any reporting law must also be extended.

He also said the attitudes of parishioners must change for the church to be forced to change.

Going to a Roman Catholic Church to report abuse by priests, Dugo said, “is like going to the wolf to complain about the wolf. People have to go to the police.”

“I think it’s their faith,” Dugo said when asked why more people do not report abuse to the police. “They don’t want to go against the church. It’s like they’re blinded by faith. The more powerful it is the stronger their denial.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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