Brooklyn Bishop to Retire After Vatican Clears Him of Child Sexual Abuse

Pope Francis named a new bishop to lead the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn on Wednesday, ending the 18-year tenure of the current bishop, Nicholas DiMarzio, weeks after a Vatican investigation cleared him of two accusations of child sexual abuse dating to the 1970s.

The new bishop, Robert J. Brennan, will be the eighth man to lead the diocese, which encompasses 1.5 million Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens. He has served as bishop of the Columbus, Ohio, diocese since 2019. Before that, he held various roles in the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island over 30 years.

Bishop Brennan, a 59-year-old Bronx native who was raised on Long Island, will be formally installed in the position on Nov. 30. On Wednesday Bishop DiMarzio, 77, described his successor’s appointment in generational terms.

“He knows New York, he is someone familiar with the issues here, so he is a quick study,” Bishop DiMarzio said at a news conference. “He knows a lot of the priests in the diocese, so it is a good assignment for him. He is young, he is energetic.”

Bishop Brennan’s appointment ended two years of speculation and turmoil in the Brooklyn diocese.

In accordance with church policy, Bishop DiMarzio submitted his resignation to the pope on his 75th birthday, in June 2019. And while it is common for the Vatican to wait a year or more to accept a bishop’s resignation, the period since Bishop DeMarzio submitted his has been characterized by several extraordinary events.

First, there was a public allegation of abuse in November 2019 by a man who said Bishop DiMarzio abused him when he was a preteen altar boy in Jersey City, drawing a long and high-profile Vatican investigation.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic, which ravaged Brooklyn and Queens early on.

Since it swept into the United States, the virus has killed more than 54,000 people in New York City, including two priests in the Brooklyn diocese. To fight the pandemic, former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo introduced restrictions on the size of religious services, which the diocese successfully challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court last November.

Then, earlier this year, a second man publicly accused Bishop DiMarzio of sexually abusing him as a child in 1970s when the bishop was a young priest in the Archdiocese of Newark.

The Vatican investigation into both allegations cleared Bishop DiMarzio this month, but a lawyer for both accusers said on Wednesday that lawsuits they had filed against him would continue to work their way through the courts in New Jersey.

“The retirement of Bishop DiMarzio will not prevent the two separate civil lawsuits against Bishop DiMarzio from proceeding,” Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer, said in a statement.

“The recent finding of the Vatican clearing Bishop DiMarzio of sexual abuse was the result of a biased investigation rendered by a self-serving Vatican court with a predetermined agenda,” Mr. Garabedian added.

Bishop DiMarzio said on Wednesday that he “did not expect Mr. Garabedian to drop his cases because I am retired,” and that he believed the lawsuits “will keep me in my retirement busy, I am sure.”

Bishop Brennan declined at the news conference to address the civil suits against his predecessor but he said he “had great confidence in the findings” of the Vatican investigation.

The church paid an outside law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills, and a consulting group led by Louis Freeh, a former F.B.I. director, to conduct the investigation. The findings were then reviewed by the Vatican’s powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which formulates church doctrine.

“The church has been working hard over these 20 years to address the problems of the past,” Bishop Brennan said. “What do I say to those who still don’t have trust? I would say very simply that I understand, that I am sorry, and that I hope as you look at what has been done and what we seek to continue to do that we can rebuild that trust.”

The new bishop described himself as “heartbroken” to leave Columbus after just two years, but he also emphasized his New York bona fides.

He said that his father had been a New York City police officer in Queens for 24 years, and that his brother works for the Police Department now.

Bishop Brennan attended St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens, where he said he “first experienced the remarkable diversity of the Diocese of Brooklyn.”

“The parishes in Brooklyn and Queens have long embraced the richness of that diversity, and the bishops and diocesan leadership have sought to provide for and learn from immigrants from around the world,” he said. “I am eager to get to know the many and varied communities that form this amazing and unique diocese.”

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