Priest Named in Abuse Files Worked in Prosecutor's Office

April 10, 2002

By DEAN E. MURPHY

New York Times


The pastor of a Roman Catholic parish in Flushing, Queens,
who has been placed on administrative leave because of
allegations of past child sexual abuse, held a part-time
job until last month in the domestic violence unit of the
Queens district attorney's office, law enforcement and
diocesan officials said yesterday.

The most recent of a series of jobs in the office involved
clerk-level work, and for more than seven years in the
1990's, the priest, the Rev. James T. Smith, worked as a
counselor for victims of domestic battering, and before
that he counseled elderly beating victims, according to a
review of his employment record by the district attorney's
office. Father Smith first worked in the office in the
mid-1980's, the records show.

Father Smith was fired on March 22, when the Diocese of
Brooklyn notified the district attorney's office that he
had been accused of child sexual abuse, a law enforcement
official said. He was relieved of his pastoral duties at
the Flushing parish, St. Kevin Church, around the same
time.

A spokesman for Richard A. Brown, the Queens district
attorney, said that Father Smith's employment was periodic
and irregular and that he was paid on a per diem basis. He
had not worked since February, and during the last five
years he worked fewer than 10 days a year; the most he
worked in a single year was 100 days in 1992, said the
spokesman, Patrick Clark.

Mr. Clark said that there had been no complaints in the
district attorney's office about Father Smith's work and
that it appeared that none of the priest's jobs involved
counseling children. "I was told that he was likable and
personable and he was capable in performing his duties,"
Mr. Clark said.

In a letter read last weekend to parishioners at St. Kevin
Church, Bishop Thomas V. Daily said the priest had denied
the abuse allegations, which were made recently and
involved "inappropriate sexual contact" with three minors
more than 20 years ago. The bishop said that Father Smith
had been ordered to enter a psychological treatment center
because the stress of the allegations had put him in a
state of depression.

"This does not negate all of the good and dedicated
priestly service that Father Smith has offered in our
diocese," the bishop said in his letter. "However, in view
of this difficult and painful situation, and since he has
reached the retirement age of 71, I do not intend to extend
Father Smith's term as pastor of St. Kevin."

A spokesman for the diocese, Frank De Rosa, said Father
Smith's employment with the district attorney's office was
undertaken on his own and had nothing to do with the
diocese. "It was his interest," Mr. De Rosa said. " A lot
of priests who work in the community get involved in
certain organizations according to their interests and
skills."

Mr. Clark said it was highly unusual for a member of the
clergy to work in the office. "I believe this is the only
priest who is affiliated with the district attorney's
office," he said.

According to the office's records, Father Smith began
volunteering there in the mid-1980's to assist elderly
abuse victims. A few years later, John J. Santucci, who was
the district attorney at the time, appointed Father Smith
to a committee of clergy members and community
representatives that screened applicants for the
second-chance program, which allows some first-time
nonviolent offenders to clear their records by community
service and other supervised activities.

Father Smith got his first paying job in the office in
1990, when he was hired as a part-time counselor in the
criminal court bureau, where he interviewed victims of
domestic violence and helped prepare their court papers. In
1997, when the counseling functions were transferred out of
the district attorney's office, Father Smith was classified
as a clerk-typist.

A law enforcement official said Father Smith was apparently
kept on the payroll to help him collect some pension
benefits from the county.

Rabbi Bruce Goldwasser of Temple Beth Sholom of Flushing,
who had been a volunteer with the second-chance program
before Father Smith was, said he came to know Father Smith
through an annual ecumenical service in Flushing. He said
he was saddened to hear that the priest had become ensnared
in the sex-abuse scandal.

"It just breaks my heart - the thought that it is true or
that he is going through the mill if it is not true," Rabbi
Goldwasser said.

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