By Sabina Mollot
On Tuesday, a former pastor of Epiphany Church, Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, was charged with possessing dozens of images of child pornography.
The now 96-year-old retired priest of the Catholic Church allegedly had photos of girls as young as eight on his computer performing sex acts with men or posing naked. Additionally, according to an investigation conducted by Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, Byrne even viewed the images in front of many other people at his retirement home, the St. John Vianney Center for Retired Priests in the Bronx.
“People at his residence were subjected to it when they entered his room,” said Clark in a written statement. “Anyone who views child pornography supports horrific child exploitation.”
The monsignor was indicted on 37 counts of possession of an obscene sexual performance by a child and 37 counts of possession of a sexual performance by a child.
The investigation began five months ago after Clark’s office got a complaint about Byrne. The investigation concluded that he allegedly sought out images of young girls (aged 8-14) by using Google and Bing.
If convicted of the top charge, Byrne could face four years in prison and have to register as a sex offender.
Byrne, who worked at Epiphany from 1982-1996, where he retired from, pled not guilty to all the charges on Tuesday. He was arraigned before Bronx Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary and was released. He is due back in court on January 17.
Prior to his arrival at Epiphany, he worked at St. Joseph’s on the Upper East Side.
The current pastor at Epiphany, Reverend Austin Titus, referred questions about Byrne to the Archdiocese, where spokesperson Joseph Zwilling noted that this week’s allegations were the first complaints the Archdiocese has gotten about Byrne. Zwilling added that since the charges were announced, the Archdiocese hasn’t heard any additional complaints with regards to Byrne’s behavior.
Update Nov. 7: Titus said, “Reports emanating from the nursing facility where he is being treated for illness are very sad and disturbing — completely uncharacteristic of how our parishioners remember him.”
He added that there were no other complaints about Byrne, “either before or since these reports.”
Marvin Ray Raskin, Byrne’s attorney, suggested his client’s age could be a factor in a brief statement he gave to the media.
“Monsignor Byrne dedicated 72 years to charity and the church with an unsullied history. It is difficult to imagine at his age of 96 he knowingly understood and is responsible for the contents of a particular subject on a computer accessible to numerous people.”
For five years, Monsignor maintained a religious-themed blog called Archangel, though his last post was in 2012.
The New York Times reported that Byrne wrote at least 15 letters to the newspaper that were published, including on the subject of sex abuse by clergy. In 2002, he wrote to the Times, slamming cover-ups by the church and secret settlements.