A man who said he survived sexual abuse at the hands of a Buffalo priest sued the Diocese of Buffalo on Thursday, claiming the diocese created a public “nuisance” by exonerating the priest and returning him to ministry earlier this year.
In March, Matthew Golden, 33, of Buffalo, stepped forward to say he was molested as a young boy in the 1990s by Father Dennis Riter.
“It all started in 1996, when I was an altar boy at Our Lady of Perpetual Help,” Golden told the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team earlier this year.
After the I-Team aired Golden's story -- which also involved a second alleged victim who is now deceased -- the Diocese of Buffalo suspended Riter.
But three months later, in June, the diocese made the controversial move of returning Riter to ministry at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Dunkirk after it said Golden's allegation "could not be substantiated."
The statute of limitations in New York prevents most abuse victims from filing lawsuits, so Golden's attorney -- Jeff Anderson & Associates -- had to get creative.
They sued the diocese for "nuisance," alleging the diocese endangered the public through efforts to "conceal from the general public the sexual assaults committed by...Fr. Riter and the diocese's other accused priests.”
The lawsuit goes on to say the diocese "attack(ed) the credibility of victims...And allow(ed) known child molesters to live freely in the community without informing the public."
“I will continue to fight this fight for the children in the Diocese of Buffalo as long as Bishop Malone continues to be defiant in his ways of handling this crisis,” Golden said in a news release. “The Bishop says the shepherd does not abandon his flock during a difficult time, but based upon his decisions of the past he abandoned the children of this diocese a long time ago and chose to protect his image, and those who committed these horrible crimes continuing to allow them to prey on innocent children.”
The lawsuit also references an I-Team investigation from May that revealed a third alleged victim, and a man who said he reported the abuse to the diocese in 1992 but got no response. Riter has denied all the allegations.
“He pulled his pants down and made me perform oral sex till he was done,” the man said.
Lawyers say the diocese endangered the public by not pulling Riter from ministry while it interviewed this third alleged victim.
Malone has faced intense pressure to resign in the wake of a 7 Eyewitness News investigation that showed he allowed priests to return to ministry despite allegations of sexual abuse.
Through a spokesman, Malone said, "The diocese received the lawsuit today and will respond appropriately."
He was not available for comment, as Malone on Thursday boarded a flight to Boston. Sources say he plans to vacation at Cape Cod for Labor Day.
In response, Rodney Personius, attorney for Fr. Riter, said in an email, "Father Riter is now and always has been devoted to service of the Church and the members of the several parishes where he has been assigned. The misplaced allegations of the Golden complaint notwithstanding, he intends to continue in that service. Nothing has changed since his recent exoneration by the Diocese. False allegations do not take on the imprimatur of fact by the simple expedient of placing them in a pleading which, notably, is itself unverified."
To date, more than 80 priests have been accused of child sexual abuse in the Diocese of Buffalo.
The Diocese of Buffalo and Bishop Richard Malone are facing mounting pressure following Charlie Specht's explosive I-Team investigation exposing how the Bishop and Diocese dealt with suspected predator priests.
To read a full copy of the complaint, click here.