Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke is calling on the Diocese of Buffalo to be more transparent in its handling of clergy sexual abuse cases.
Burke, in a news release issued Thursday, said, "The sexual abuse of a child is one of the most heinous and despicable crimes. Covering up those crimes is incomprehensible. Both of the priests from my childhood were suspected of pedophilia. I did not serve as an altar boy, nor did I interact with them closely, but many of my friends did. This will not end until community leaders speak up and use their platforms to make this happen.”
Burke, of South Buffalo, is the first Catholic politician to speak out about the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Buffalo diocese. He specifically cited the 80 clerics accused of sexual misconduct in Buffalo, as well as the recent Pennsylvania grand jury investigation of clergy abuse in that state, as reasons for speaking out.
Burke in recent weeks has hosted a public conversation in the Erie County Legislature Chambers on clergy abuse and has also started an online petition titled, "Stop the Excuses: Demand justice for victims of clergy sexual abuse."
Burke also released a letter to Bishop Richard Malone in which he says he is "alarmed" at the diocese's recent exoneration of Fr. Dennis Riter, who was accused of abusing three boys and who denies the charges. In June, the diocese returned Riter to ministry at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Dunkirk after declaring one of the allegations "could not be substantiated."
"His accuser is a childhood friend of mine," Burke wrote to Bishop Malone. "I do not know many of the details of this case but I have communicated with my friend and I have no reason to doubt him. Public trust and confidence in the Church needs to be re-built. I am requesting release of that report in order to get a full understanding of the decision that was made."
Previously, Lawlor F. Quinlan, an attorney for the diocese, told 7 Eyewitness News the diocese would not release the report.
George Richert, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese, said Bishop Malone declined to comment other than to say that he has responded directly to Burke.