Auxilary Bishop Edward Grosz
Matt Golden and Nick Caetano are alleged victims of Father Dennis Riter, who allegedly abused them while they were altar boys at a Buffalo parish 20 years ago.
Two months ago, when the boys’ stories first came to light, the diocese suspended Father Riter from the Dunkirk parish where he serves as pastor.
But 7 Eyewitness News has now found a third victim -- this one from a church in Lackawanna -- and a secret document that suggests two bishops may have been warned of Father Riter's abuse more than 25 years ago -- and failed to act.
One of those men is Edward Grosz -- the current auxiliary bishop of Buffalo who now plays a key role in the diocese’s response to the sexual abuse crisis. Golden, a former altar boy, had harsh words for the bishop who once presided at his confirmation into the Catholic faith.
“You knew about this...and you did nothing,” Golden said. “Where’s the accountability?”
The secret letter -- obtained exclusively by 7 Eyewitness News -- was written and signed by a student at Christ the King Seminary in 1992. The seminarian says he walked in on Father Riter abusing a six-year-old boy at the rectory of Queen of All Saints Church in Lackawanna. But when he alerted diocesan authorities about what he saw, he said he was given the message to keep quiet.
“I considered this a very, very serious matter,” said the former seminarian, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity because he fears retribution from church authorities. “It was heartbreaking to see this.”
The seminarian remembers helping a frantic father whose young son had gone missing, when they decided to look for the boy in the Queen of All Saints rectory on Ridge Road.
“All of a sudden, I think from the office...the child emerges,” he said. “And I see Father Riter in the background.”
The boy’s father grabs the six-year-old’s hand to leave the rectory.
“And he takes his hand that he was holding the child with and he sticks it in my face and says, ‘What is this?’” he said. “I can only identify the substance by one thing.”
It was the smell, he said, of male semen -- and it was on the hand, hair and shirt of the six-year-old boy.
"I think about this...all the time"
The boy -- now a man in his 30s -- agreed to an interview with 7 Eyewitness News on the condition that his name be changed. “Jason,” as he is being called, is still embarrassed about that day.
“When he took me in his office and shut the door,” Jason said of Father Riter, “he pulled his pants down and made me perform oral sex ‘till he was done.”
Jason suffers from anxiety and depression, and it’s clear the abuse has taken away much more than his innocence.
“I have very low self-esteem. I don't think highly of myself,” Jason said. “It's hard for me to have a stable relationship. I think about this...all the time.”
He added, “I don't have religion...because of this situation. One time is enough. I don't trust nobody, really.”
Jason identified physical features of the priest that were consistent with Father Riter’s appearance. His story was in many ways identical to what the seminarian had separately told 7 Eyewitness News.
The seminarian was alarmed at what he saw, so he wrote a letter to Bishop Edward Head and Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz, telling them he witnessed Riter in a "morally and legally questionable situation with a young male child."
He called it "very disturbing...to the point that this keeps me awake at night."
He asked the bishops to launch an immediate investigation to protect other children.
"Anyone who would take advantage of a child," he wrote, should be "criminally investigated, and not serve as a priest in any capacity in any ministry in our Catholic Church."
“I hand-delivered [the letter] to the bishop's offices,” the seminarian said in an interview.
But he said he heard no response until months later, when he said he talked to Father Peter Popadick, the longtime secretary to Bishop Head.
“He stated something to the effect that…my letter wasn't well-appreciated,” the seminarian said. “It wasn't well taken.”
Approached at his rectory this month, Monsignor Popadick silently read the letter before saying he had no memory of it. When told of the comments the seminarian attributed to him, he said, "I would never say anything like that."
He declined to comment further.
Bishop Head died in 2005 and through a spokesman, Bishop Grosz declined an interview request. In a written statement, the diocese said, "Bishop Grosz did not receive this letter, and the diocese has no record of receiving it."
7 Eyewitness News made repeated attempts to reach Father Riter for his reaction to the new allegations. Parish officials in at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Dunkirk said Riter -- while suspended -- does not live in the rectory there, so we asked the diocese to either pass along the letter to Father Riter with an interview request, or to provide a location where the suspended priest could be reached.
Diocesan spokesman George Richert only responded on behalf of Grosz. When pressed about reaching out to Father Riter, he said in an email, "I cannot help you with this."
Asked whether he at least passed the letter along to the suspended priest, Richert said, "I cannot answer that."
After the abuse, Golden’s life went into a spiral. His mother said his demeanor suddenly changed.
It pains him to think that if the bishops had only acted on that letter -- which was written years before his abuse -- he may have been spared the pain and the trauma that followed.
“People knew about it, and they didn't do anything about it,” Golden said. “And now I've been here for 22 years, kicking myself, thinking that I've done something wrong, where in essence, if this was taken care of in '92, I'd have lived my life to the full potential that I could have been.”