A priest at St. Kevins Church in Flushing was asked to step down after it was alleged he sexually abused three children more than 20 years ago, the bishop of the diocese said in a letter read to parishioners Sunday.
Rev. James Smith, 71, left his position as pastor at St. Kevins Church on 195th Street in Auburndale two weeks ago, said Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which also includes Queens.
At Sundays mass, worshipers at St. Kevins were read a letter from Bishop Thomas Daily, head of the diocese, on the reasons behind Smiths absence from the church.
Father James Smith, your pastor for the past 13 years, has not been among you at St. Kevins for about two weeks, Daily wrote. This is the result of information presented to the diocese only recently that alleges he was involved in inappropriate sexual contact with three minors more than 20 years ago.
Church officials would not reveal where Smith was said to have committed such abuses.
Although the letter went on to say Smith has denied the allegations, Daily said he has been placed on administrative leave.
Smith served at the Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church on 143rd Street in Whitestone from 1965 to 1976, DeRosa said. From there, he moved on to Our Lady of Hope in Middle Village and then Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Astoria in 1980. Smith stayed in Astoria until moving to St. Kevins in 1989.
Michael Dowd, an attorney representing an alleged victim of Smith, said the priest is accused of sexually abusing three boys from 1970 to 1973 while serving in Whitestone, Newsday reported.
Dowd could not be reached for comment. Representatives from the Flushing and Whitestone churches would not comment on Smith.
Due to the statute of limitations, Smith cannot be charged with a crime, a law enforcement official said.
Smiths removal from St. Kevins was announced as Daily came under increasing scrutiny for his lax handling of sex abuse accusations against priests in New York City and in Boston, where he previously served.
The Rev. John McVernon told Newsday he had approached Daily in the 1990s to express concern about parties the Rev. Frank Capellupo held for teen-age boys in the rectory of Long Island Citys Most Precious Blood parish, the newspaper said Tuesday.
But Capellupo was not removed from his priestly duties until June 2000, when he was charged with sodomizing a 14-year-old boy in the rectory of a Brooklyn church, DeRosa said. The charges were later dropped, he said.
Capellupo, who was assigned to Most Precious Blood from 1985 to 1995, still lives in Queens but could not be reached for comment.
DeRosa said Daily was out of the state and therefore could not comment on McVernons claim that the bishop failed to act expediently on his concerns about Capellupo.
The Queens district attorneys office also would not comment on the specifics of Smiths case.
But representatives from the DAs office Monday met with the Brooklyn diocese about priests accused of sexual abuse in Queens and issued a statement after the meeting.
We outlined the information we want and we anticipate a prompt response, the statement from the DAs office said.
After volunteering with the office for several years, Smith had worked as a domestic violence counselor for the Queens DA from 1990 until 1997, when the program was transferred out of the office, said Patrick Clark, spokesman for the office.
But he continued to work there sporadically as a clerk until he was fired March 22 after the diocese notified the DAs office of the allegations against him, Clark said.
There were no complaints, said Clark. He was described as being personable, likable and capable.
Smith, a Brooklyn native, started his career as a priest at Our Lady of Grace Church in Howard Beach, in 1956 before moving to Whitestone in 1965, DeRosa said.
Smith, whose brother died recently, is undergoing psychological counseling for treatment of depression, Dailey said in his letter to parishioners at St. Kevins.
This does not negate all of the good and dedicated priestly service that Father Smith has offered in our diocese, Daily wrote. However, in view of this difficult and painful situation and since he has reached the retirement age of 71, I do not intend to extend Fathers Smiths term as pastor of St. Kevin.
A 20-year-old parishioner at St. Kevins said she was shocked to learn of the allegations.
For most of my life Ive been going to confession with him, she said. He was just a really nice guy. I really hope its not true.
Dustin Brown contributed to this story
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.
©2002 Community News Group
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