The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens announced on Tuesday that decades-old accusations of sexual abuse against two priests had been deemed “credible,” and that the priests would be defrocked and removed from public ministry.
The Diocese review board, a unit composed of non-clergy which assesses the validity of sexual abuse claims against priests, announced the findings the day before the opening of the “lookback window” of the Child Victims Act, allowing survivors to sue their abusers even if the statute of limitations has long since passed. Aside from dozens of claims against clergy members, the window’s opening on Wednesday saw new lawsuits against the Boy Scouts of America and the estate of Jeffrey Epstein, among hundreds of others.
The credible allegations date back to the 1970s, and the defrocked priests have both since retired. The Diocese said in a statement that “credible” means that the Diocese believes the allegations “may be true.”
Father Charles White, 79, was accused in 2018 of having carried out child sex abuse between 1974 and 1978, while he served at the American Martyrs Church in Bayside, Queens. The board also reopened a case regarding a 1999 accusation against White, which was also found to be credible.
The church also found credible claims against Father Hugh Byrne, 86, the former priest at the Holy Ghost Parish (now Holy Spirit Parish) in Borough Park. Allegations against Byrne were made in 2017 regarding abuse taking place between 1971 and 1973. The review board also rediscovered a 1996 allegation against Byrne, which was also found to be credible.
Both White and Byrne, in addition to being defrocked, have been placed on the Brooklyn Diocese’s public list of priests deemed to have credible allegations of child sex abuse against them. They join dozens of other accused pedophile priests publicly named on the database, which went live earlier this year.
The Diocese cleared two other priests accused of child sex abuse, finding the claims against them to not be credible. Claims against retired Father Joseph Nolan from when he served at Our Lady of the Snows Church in Glen Oaks, Queens could not be corroborated, according to the statement from the church. The claims against Nolan, now 97, were dated between 1976 and 1979.
The review board also could not corroborate claims against Father William With of abuse dating to between 1972 and 1975, from when he served at Our Lady of the Cenacle Church in Richmond Hill, Queens. With is currently the reverend at Resurrection Roman Catholic Church in Gerritsen Beach.
Neither White nor Byrne have been sued by their accusers yet, according to a query of public court records. In a statement, the Brooklyn Diocese said that it has paid out over $90 million in settlements to nearly 500 victims.
The large influx of cases filed under the Child Victims Act that have already been filed or are expected to be filed, which could potentially number in the thousands, will likely strain the state court system. As a result, the court system has named 45 judges who will be exclusively tasked with presiding over CVA cases, including 12 in New York City.