The Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported on Saturday that the metropolitan archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, is conducting an investigation into an abuse allegation lodged against one of Cardinal Dolan’s own suffragans: Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn.
Cardinal Dolan is conducting the investigation under the law that came into effect on June 1 last year, Vos estis lux mundi. The new law is intended to help with the filing of complaints, expedite investigations and streamline criminal procedures in cases of alleged abuse and cover-up.
Bishop DiMarzio’s accuser is 56-year-old Mark Matzek, who claims DiMarzio was one of two priests who repeatedly abused him when he was an altar boy in St Nicholas parish in Jersey City, New Jersey (part of the Archdiocese of Newark) in the 1970s. The other accused priest is deceased. The bishop firmly denies the allegation.
The investigation was prompted by news of a civil lawsuit being prepared for filing under New Jersey’s “lookback window” that came into effect last year, temporarily suspending statutory limitations on filing civil claims in sex abuse cases. Brooklyn says the suit has yet to be filed. Cardinal Dolan nevertheless acted on the allegation.
“As directed by Vos estis, Cardinal Dolan earlier notified the Holy See of the allegation that was raised concerning Bishop DiMarzio from his time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Newark,” said a statement from New York’s spokesman, Joseph Zwilling. “On January 7, 2020, the Cardinal received instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that he is to begin an investigation.” When allegations against other bishops have resulted in criminal prosecutions, the Holy See has sometimes preferred to let secular justice run its course.
On Sunday, Bishop DiMarzio gave a statement to CNA, welcoming the investigation and insisting that he would “vigorously defend [himself] against this false claim” and is “confident the truth will prevail”. Brooklyn diocese also told CNA that the bishop “looks forward to the investigation of the allegation made against him and having his good name cleared and restored”.
Brooklyn diocese also cited Bishop DiMarzio’s record on fighting abuse. CNA quoted a diocesan spokesperson who pointed to the confidence the bishop enjoys at the highest levels of Church governance. Proof of that confidence was the choice of Bishop DiMarzio to lead the recent apostolic visitation to the Diocese of Buffalo. Evidence of gross mismanagement and possibly criminal wrongdoing in the troubled diocese in New York state had been before the public for more than a year before the Vatican decided to order a visitation in lieu of a Vos estis investigation.
Abuse allegations are extremely delicate matters and difficult to investigate. They often come only decades after the abuse allegedly occurred, with scant evidence from vulnerable witnesses. In the case of Bishop DiMarzio, we have a single 40-year-old allegation that (rightly) brings the full weight of the system upon him, soon after the bishop had been sent to Buffalo to conduct a secret “fact-finding mission” and file a confidential report.
As the Catholic Herald noted at the time, the mode and manner of that investigation raised serious concerns within the Diocese of Buffalo – among clergy and faithful alike – as well as outside the diocese. Bishop Malone resigned in the wake of the visitation, but the contents of Bishop DiMarzio’s report remain confidential.
Simply put: the question is not whether Vos estis is justifiably used against Bishop DiMarzio. The question is: why hasn’t it been used against Bishop Malone and the Buffalo diocese?
Part of the answer may be attributable to caution in proceeding under what was at the time an untried scheme and an untested law. If Buffalo was the ideal test case for Vos estis, this was so in large part because it was the locus of a major public scandal that had long since become a national and international news story. The stakes may simply have been too high.
In any case, the Holy See opted to test Vos estis on another US bishop: Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Minnesota. The Vatican late last summer authorised the metropolitan Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St Paul-Minneapolis, to conduct an investigation into allegations that Bishop Hoeppner interfered with civil or canonical investigations of clerical sexual misconduct in his diocese. (The bishop has defended his record.)
Archbishop Hebda sent his report to Rome in early November. There is no word on whether the Holy See will release its findings, or inform the public in the event that the investigation leads to a canonical trial or other proceedings.
Prosecutorial discretion is one thing. Consistent use of investigative tools – especially ones fashioned to purpose and touted before the world as revolutionary – is a bare minimum requirement for public confidence in the rule of law and the administration of justice. In the absence of a satisfactory explanation, the faithful may garner the impression that their leaders are not really serious about ending the crisis.
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