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More accuse Auburndale priest of abuse

The new allegations against the former...

By Alexander Dworkowitz

Women as well as men are coming forward to claim that the Rev. James Smith of Flushing’s St. Kevin’s Church sexually abused them when they were children, an attorney representing Smith’s accusers said last week.

The new allegations against the former domestic violence counselor involving churches in Howard Beach and Middle Village were lodged as Queens District Attorney Richard Brown looked into possibly prosecuting several Queens priests accused of sexual abuse.

Cardinal Edward Egan, who leads the Archdiocese of New York, was one of eight U.S. cardinals summoned Monday to the Vatican for an April 23 meeting with top church officials, and perhaps the pope, to discuss the national sex scandal. There are 13 cardinals in the United States, but the ones headed for Rome all lead an archdiocese.

Despite the allegations against Smith, parishioners at St. Kevin’s in the Auburndale section of Flushing described him as a well-liked, hardworking priest.

In an interview last Thursday, attorney Michael Dowd said that since April 7 more than 20 people had come to his office and told him Smith, who recently was removed from his position as pastor at St. Kevin’s, had sexually abused them.

“The number of victims is going to be very high,” he said.

Smith, 71, has denied the allegations, Bishop Thomas Daily of the Diocese of Brooklyn, wrote in a letter read to parishioners at St. Kevin’s earlier this month.

Dowd said Smith’s accusers are women as well as men, ranging in age from their mid-30s to mid-50s.

Smith is accused of sexually abusing children at his churches over a 20-year period, Dowd said.

The earliest accusations date back to the late 1950s, when Smith served at Our Lady of Grace Church in Howard Beach, the attorney said.

Smith is accused of sexually abusing children at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Whitestone where he served from 1965 to 1976, Dowd said. He also faces accusations stemming from his time at Our Lady of Hope in Middle Village, where he worked from 1976 to 1980, Dowd added.

Smith then moved on to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Astoria and in 1989 he transferred to St. Kevin’s, said Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for the Brooklyn diocese, which also includes Queens. According to Dowd, there are no accusations of wrongdoing by Smith at either the Astoria or Flushing church.

Due to the statute of limitations, Smith cannot be charged with a crime in connection with the accusations lodged with Dowd, said Patrick Clark, a spokesman for the Queens district attorney’s office.

Nevertheless, the Queens district attorney has taken an interest in the Smith case as well as other cases of accused priests in the borough. Smith worked in the district attorney’s office as a volunteer and on a part-time basis since the mid-1980s, said Clark. Smith was removed from his position as a domestic violence counselor several weeks ago after the accusations against him emerged, Clark said.

The Brooklyn diocese turned over information to the DA’s office Friday involving sex abuse accusations against priests, including seven from Queens.

“The information turned over today by the Diocese of Brooklyn concerning allegations involving clerical sexual abuse will be reviewed by specially trained sex crime prosecutors in my Special Victims Bureau who will determine if legally sufficient evidence exists to sustain the filing of criminal charges,” Brown said Friday.

In Auburndale, a new priest has arrived at St. Kevin’s to help take over as administrator and head priest.

The Rev. Michael J. Reid, who could not be reached for comment, has assumed the position of administrator at the church.

Smith is in a state of depression and is seeking counseling, said Daily.

But worshipers at St. Kevin’s remember Smith as a popular leader of the church.

“He was a very good pastor,” said Joan, a parishioner at the church, who declined to give her last name. “Very friendly.”

Pat, a parishioner who also did not wish to give her last name, said Smith had worked to improve handicap access at the church.

“He did a lot of good things here,” she said.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

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