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Buffalo Diocese replaced one pedophile priest with another, lawsuit alleges

Niagara Falls attorney claims abuse in 1980s
Posted: 4:44 PM, May 02, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-02 17:50:09-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — When Niagara Falls attorney Paul K. Barr was sexually abused by the Rev. Michael Freeman in 1980, the Diocese of Buffalo quietly transferred the priest.

Diocesan leaders chose the Rev. Bernard M. Mach as his replacement -- but Mach was a pedophile, too.

And when Barr confided in another church leader -- a youth minister at Sacred Heart Church -- about the abuse, Barr had no idea of knowing he was talking to someone who would also go on to be accused of sexually abusing minors.

Those allegations are laid out in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Barr this week in State Supreme Court in Niagara County. Click here to view a copy of the lawsuit. The Buffalo News first reported the filing of the lawsuit.

In an interview with 7 Eyewitness News, Barr confirmed he rejected the diocese's previous settlement offer of $45,000.

"I rejected the offer from the diocese because I wanted to show my support for other people who had been abused, either by clergy or other institutions," Barr said.

The suit was filed by a New York City law firm, but Barr has plenty of experience as a litigator dealing with issues relating to the Catholic Church. He said he is serving as legal counsel to multiple victims of child sexual abuse in the Buffalo Diocese.

"It’s such an important issue," Barr said. "I can’t tell you how many of the new cases I got who tell me, I’m the first person they’ve ever told about this."

The lawsuit states Freeman "carefully groomed" Barr in 1980 while the boy was preparing for confirmation. One evening at Sacred Heart, the priest warned Barr about a supposed medical "condition" that caused sterility and was common among athletes. The priest told Barr he was trained as an Air Force chaplain to detect the condition.

After ordering him to pull down his pants, Freeman "massaged and manipulated" his penis, the lawsuit states.

"Barr was scared and confused by Freeman's conduct," the lawsuit states. "He felt conflicted and betrayed because these unspeakable acts were being committed by a figure cloaked with spiritual authority and benevolence: the pastor whom Barr had some to trust and admire, and who has claimed that he was simply acting in Barr's best interest."

Barr put an end to the assault and tried to leave Sacred Heart, but Freeman had deadbolted the door with a key. After convincing him to unlock the door, he left and told his mother about the abuse, he said. She told him "not to say anything to anyone" because Freeman was a church official.

Freeman was "abruptly transferred" the next year and replaced by Mach, who would go on to be accused of raping underage boys along with Rev. John Aurelio in the 1990s.

Mach "did nothing to investigate the assault or report it to authorities," the lawsuit states. The youth minister -- who years later denied accusations of sexually abusing minors -- took Barr to the diocesan chancery to report the abuse in 1985. He told an unidentified female employee, but "no one from the diocese responded to Barr, or did anything to investigate" his complaint, he said.

Freeman, who is a subject of the notorious Pennsylvania grand jury report, was accused of molesting children in most of his assignments in Buffalo and went on to be a priest in Erie, Pa., under Bishop Donald W. Trautman.

One of Freeman's alleged victims was abused while the priest held a gun to his head, The Buffalo News reported earlier this year. That happened after Barr made his report to the diocese about Freeman.

"I’m furious," Barr said. "That angers me more than anything, that Freeman went on and abused somebody to extent that he did after it was reported to them that he abused me. The purpose of reporting it was to prevent happening what did happen."

Freeman's priestly faculties were revoked in 1989 and he died in 2010.

Kathy Spangler, a spokeswoman for Bishop Richard J. Malone, declined to comment on the lawsuit. While Barr's abuse happened decades ago, he has no sympathy for the embattled bishop and the way he has handled the sexual abuse crisis.

"Some day, there’s going to be a public relations manual, and it’s going to describe exactly what not to do in your public relations campaign," Barr said. "And it’s going to make reference to Bishop Malone and how they’re behaving right now."