Catholic priest John W. Broderick will be celebrating Easter as a free man after Montgomery County Court Judge Felix Catena on Wednesday threw out his conviction on a charge of endangering the welfare of a child.
Broderick initially faced three felony counts of sexual misconduct against a child but was convicted by a jury on Feb. 18 of only a misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a child after Catena reduced one of the felony counts. The trial jury found Broderick innocent of the other two felony counts.
Bruce Barket, a downstate attorney representing Broderick at his sentencing Wednesday, made a motion for the judge to dismiss the endangering charge on the grounds that it should have never been given to the jury in the first place.
Barket argued that the charge of endangering the welfare of a child was not listed on the indictment and the court is not allowed to add counts to an indictment unless it meets specific criteria. In this case it didn’t, Barket said.
After about 10 minutes of arguments by both Barket and Montgomery County District Attorney James “Jed” Conboy, Catena ruled for the defense and dismissed the charge against Broderick.
“The court acted courageously, followed the law and did the right thing,” Barket said outside the courtroom.
Broderick, of Broome County, was accused of sexual contact with the three boys, who were under the age of 11, over a period of time while he was acting as their mother's spiritual adviser.
From December 2006 to May 2007, Broderick spent one weekend a month with the large family, who live in rural western Montgomery County. He conducted traditional Catholic rituals and celebrated traditional Masses for the family and several other families with similar values. In May 2007, Broderick stopped visiting the family because of a disagreement over a contract to form a “covenant” — a self-sustained church group.
Throughout the trial, Broderick’s attorney at the time, Mark Blum of Syracuse, argued that the children, who testified on closed-circuit television, were led by their father to believe they had been sexually abused. The lawyer said the father was jealous of the relationship between Broderick and his wife.
Conboy maintained that the children’s testimony was not rehearsed.
Broderick called the decision a “victory for truth” and said he hopes the family that had accused him can find some peace.
“I’m grateful to all my supporters,” Broderick said. “This is great for me and for the priesthood itself.”
Broderick told reporters that he went through with the trial only as a way of protecting the reputation of the priesthood, which had gotten such bad publicity in recent years.
“I’m very happy that I can spend Easter celebrating,” Broderick said.
Broderick said he has some things to go through before he can receive a new appointment as a priest, but he intends to do so.
He had been suspended by the Syracuse Roman Catholic Diocese in early 2007 but was able to continue serving as a priest through the Dominican Sisters of Idaho, a group not officially recognized by the Catholic Church.
Members of the accusing family avoided reporters outside the courthouse after the sentencing, but John Aretakis, an attorney who has represented them and many other victims and alleged victims of sex abuse by priests, spoke on their behalf.
“To say we’re disappointed would be an understatement,” he said. “We thought he would be coming out of here in handcuffs.”
Aretakis blamed Catena for mistakenly allowing the jury to rule on the endangering charge and said he should have moved forward with sentencing and let an appellate court rule if there was an appeal.
“The judge made an error and reversed it on a technicality and let a convicted predator go,” Aretakis said. “Judges have been keeping priests out of jail for decades and Judge Felix Catena made a grave mistake,” he said.
Aretakis late last year was suspended from the practice of law but the suspension was stayed while he appealed and he was able to remain involved in the case.
Outside the courthouse, the mother of the alleged victims accosted Broderick as he was leaving, saying, “He’s lying, he’s lying.”
Conboy had no comment on the judge’s ruling Wednesday.