A former Queens priest, with a history of molestation charges against him, was named in a lawsuit last Thursday for allegedly molesting a young girl for four years while her mother ran the church office at St. Kevin’s Catholic Church in Flushing.
Father James Smith, 72, was removed from the church on 194th Street in 2002 after allegations of sexual misconduct 20 years ago in a Whitestone parish. Now, a $30-million lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens claims that he molested a girl at St. Kevin’s from 1996 to 2000. The girl was 11 when the alleged sexual misconduct began.
Handling the case is Manhattan attorney Michael Dowd, who last year represented one of the alleged Whitestone victims from the 1970s. Newsday announced last week that Queens District Attorney Richard Brown was investigating the charges but his office would neither confirm or deny the statement.
Although the Queens District Attorney’s Office refused comment, other law enforcement officials, speaking off the record, say claims about the investigation involving the D.A.’s Office are true.
If Brown should proceed with charges, it would be the first case in Queens concerning sexual misconduct by a priest and the diocese. All previous allegations had reached the five-year statute of limitations in time and were too old to prosecute.
Allegations about Father Smith, who worked his entire career in Queens, surfaced last year and have exploded since with over 30 people coming forward saying they were abused by him over a 20-year period in Whitestone’s Holy Trinity Church. He was specifically accused of molesting three boys, ages 10 and 13, from 1970 to 1973.
Father Smith first was assigned to Our Lady of Grace in Howard Beach, where one former parishioner came forward to say he was abused by the priest. He then served at Holy Trinity and later at Our Lady of Hope in Middle Village and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Long Island City.
The priest also worked part-time for many years in the Queens District Attorney’s Office as a volunteer crime victim counselor and later as a part-time paid clerk. He left that job shortly before the diocese suspended him at St. Kevin’s.
Dowd said last year that Smith owned a home in Amityville, Long Island, where it is alleged that some of the abuse against the children occurred. The priest was put on administrative leave by the diocese last year.
The lawsuit, filed last week in Manhattan, claims that the diocese knew of other allegations against Smith as recently as 1999. Instead of removing him, the lawsuit alleged that the diocese let him stay.
According to published reports, Dowd claims the local diocese knew of allegations against Smith in 1999 and let him keep working. He called it a coverup that the Catholic Church has been guilty of for decades. He added that this case shows that sexual misconduct within the church is not just in the distant past.
Because Father Smith was allowed to continue serving at a church, the lawsuit says, his misconduct was thereby condoned and the abuse on the girl at St. Kevin’s continued.
Members of St. Kevin’s last year were shocked to hear the allegations about their priest, noting that he was instrumental in making vital repairs and renovations to the church when he came there in 1993. Parishioners were told in a diocesan letter that Smith had been removed based on the allegations of misconduct.
The Whitestone allegations that touched off his removal were alleged to have taken place in the church and at Shea Stadium. Jack Como, a trustee at St. Kevin’s, called Smith a warm individual. “We noticed he loved children and liked to hug them,” he said, calling the allegations sickening and that he never suspected it of Father Smith.
Como had worked closely with the priest for 2-1/2 years, primarily on the church’s 75th anniversary events in 2001. Contacted on Monday, the church trustee called the latest charges unbelievable.
“I spoke with him after he was removed from St. Kevin’s and he still denied all the charges. Apparently, he denied all but one charge, ” Como added.
He was referring to the mother of a young woman who received a letter of apology from Smith in 1991, regarding an abuse at the Whitestone church years before.
Como, who also worked on church youth sports programs at St. Kevin’s, said he never saw any impropriety between the priest and youngsters. “He seemed like a lovable priest who had knee problems and a weight problem.”
Following last year’s allegations, the diocese announced that Father Smith was getting psychological counseling for depression.