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Bishop Trautman used annulment to silence abuse victim, lawsuit alleges

He was No. 2 Buffalo Diocese official
Posted: 3:31 PM, Jan 02, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-02 18:18:19-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Attorneys are alleging that Donald W. Trautman, as auxiliary bishop of the Buffalo Diocese in the 1980s, used an annulment as a tool to silence a victim of child sexual abuse by a priest.

The allegation was made by an unnamed plaintiff who filed a new lawsuit Thursday in State Supreme Court alleging abuse by now-deceased priest Gerard Smyczynski.

The abuse allegedly occurred in the 1980s, when Smyczynski was a priest in the Buffalo Diocese, and Trautman paid "a paltry sum of money to the survivor of the abuse, which amounts to hush money," said attorney Paul Barr, who is representing the alleged victim.

Trautman then offered to speed along the marriage annulment of the child's parents in exchange for them staying quiet about the abuse, the lawsuit alleges. Annulments, which are similar in the Catholic Church to a divorce, are sometimes difficult to obtain.

"The average time of an annulment, it's about 18 months [to] as much as two years, and there's no guarantee," said James Faluszczak, a former priest under Trautman who now advocates for survivors. "I have never seen even the easiest annulments handled this quickly. It’s just bizarre."

Trautman, who later went on to become bishop of Erie, Pa., did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment.

But Faluszczak and Barr said his alleged cover-up of the abuse enabled the client of Barr's law firm, who was 10 years old at the time, to be abused by Smyczynski, who is on the diocese's official list of credibly accused priests.

"Bishop Trautman never called the police," Barr said. "He never called the district attorney. As a result, our client that we filed the case for today was abused."

Trautman, who is now retired as Bishop of Erie, drew controversy in June by admitting that he blamed a victim of clergy sexual abuse for putting himself in the position to be molested.

Greg Tucker, an interim spokesman for the Buffalo Diocese, said in a written statement, "With regard to the Reverend Gerard Smyczynski, now deceased, his faculties were removed in 1985 and his name is included on the list of credibly accused clergy. The Diocese – now under the interim leadership of Bishop Edward Scharfenberger as Apostolic Administrator – is assessing the appropriate level of additional detail relating to those credibly accused that may be provided as part of the Diocese’s ongoing reporting, which may contribute to the healing of survivors who continue to be our first priority.”