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N.Y. priest, cleared in past case, charged with sex abuse

A Brooklyn priest, who continued in active ministry after church officials cleared him of sexual abuse accusations leveled in 1998, yesterday was charged with repeatedly molesting an altar boy as recently as two years ago, after plying the boy with money and toys.

The Rev. Joseph P. Byrns, who was permanently removed from ministry two months ago, was the pastor at St. Rose of Lima Church in 2000 when he began luring the 11-year-old boy for sexual encounters that gradually "escalated to oral and anal sodomy," according to the district attorney in Kings County, N.Y.

A son of Haitian immigrants, the boy moved to southern Florida with his family last year and later disclosed the alleged abuse to his parents. Byrns, 61, was arrested Wednesday in Oneonta, in upstate New York, and was being held in New York City on $10,000 bail.

In 1998, the Rev. Timothy J. Lambert, a New Jersey priest, and his brother, Robert V. Lambert, told officials of the Brooklyn diocese that they were molested by Byrns while growing up in Queens during the 1970s. But church officials, including retired Bishop Thomas V. Daily, sided with Byrns after he insisted he was innocent.

Vidian Mallard, a Miami attorney representing the Haitian family, yesterday criticized the diocese for failing to act more effectively on the Lamberts' accusations. "They were told, they chose not to act, and they took no action," Mallard said. "It's outrageous."

Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for the Brooklyn diocese, which includes Queens and is the fifth largest in the nation, said yesterday church officials made a good-faith effort to investigate the Lamberts' claims. In 2002, however, he said the investigation went no further than interviews with the Lamberts and Byrns.

Yesterday, DeRosa also said church officials know very little about the criminal charges filed in the case of the Haitian boy.

The accusations made by the Lambert brothers in 1998 were publicly disclosed for the first time by the Globe in March 2002. Subsequently, church officials permitted Byrns to deny the accusations during an address to parishioners in which he said, "the accuser, personally known to me, is a deeply tortured, troubled, and disturbed person."

But the Queens district attorney investigated the Lamberts' claims, found them to be credible, and informed Daily, who placed Byrns on administrative leave in 2003. The district attorney was unable to file criminal charges against Byrns because the statute of limitations had expired.

After Daily retired, his replacement, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, referred the allegations to a diocesan review board. When the board found the allegations to be credible, DiMarzio permanently removed Byrns from active ministry and referred his case to church officials in Rome.

Yesterday, after learning about the new abuse allegations against his former priest, Robert Lambert said, "My anger is directed at Byrns but also at Daily because he could have prevented this." 

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