BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Bishop Richard J. Malone on Thursday returned a priest to active ministry despite a history of pornography problems and a looming federal investigation that may involve the priest.
Malone returned Rev. Robert A. Stolinski to "active ministry," the diocese said in a statement, after abuse allegations against him "have not been substantiated."
But the bishop's own records -- obtained by the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team -- detail a long history of pornography found in rectories where Stolinski was living. The diocese made no mention of those incidences in its public statement Thursday.
Stolinski was sent to a "treatment center" in Canada twice but allegations continued to surface over the past two decades. He is retired but was allowed to hold a position "assisting clergy" at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Niagara Falls until his suspension last year, according to a church bulletin. It is unclear whether he will return to that church now that Malone and his diocesan review board has cleared him.
In 1987, when Father Joseph Bissonnette was murdered on Buffalo's East Side, Stolinski was living in the same rectory and serving as chaplain at Erie County Medical Center.
"When the police investigated, they found a great deal of pornography (male homosexual pornography not involving children)," reads a passage in Bishop Malone's "black binder" of diocesan secrets prepared for him by Terrence M. Connors and Lawrence J. Vilardo's law firm when Malone became bishop in 2012.
"Father Stolinski was counseled," the passage states, going on to describe financial problems with the priest. "He was then sent to Southdowns [treatment center] for analysis and counseling."
** CONFIDENTIAL DOCUMENT **
Rev. Robert Stolinski was sent TWICE to "treatment" after pornography found in rectory. Today, @BishopRJMalone returned him to ministry. (Source: @BuffaloDiocese secret archives) https://t.co/D1FIxr1mRe
More on @WKBW at 11 p.m. pic.twitter.com/UkQREXKAG2
— Charlie Specht (@Charlie_Reports) March 21, 2019
But that was not the only incident in Malone's binder regarding Stolinski. Another described a more graphic incident regarding Stolinski that was handled by Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz.
"In 2009, Bishop Grosz received complaints from parish personnel that they had found pornography in Father Stolinski's room at St. James Parish in Jamestown," the passage states. "The pornography involved sexual acts between men and male teenagers, but not child pornography. After Bishop Grosz met with Father Stolinski, the parish was told that Father Stolinski was retiring for health reasons. Father Stolinski was to be again sent to Southdowns for a consultation and treatment."
The passage in the binder includes reference to a third incident in 2010, but it is unclear what that entailed.
Stolinski, despite his stated retirement and the allegations, served until last year at the Niagara Falls parish, and there is no indication parishioners there have been made aware of his full history.
Rev. Stolinski was listed as "assisting clergy" last year at St. Vincent de Paul in Niagara Falls before his suspension. pic.twitter.com/XSkCmO99Jm
— Charlie Specht (@Charlie_Reports) March 22, 2019
Diocesan attorney Terrence M. Connors did not respond to a request for comment, but Kathy Spangler, spokeswoman for Bishop Malone, said the allegation against Stolinski was "thoroughly investigated and all available information was presented" to the review board.
A church directory lists Stolinski as living at a retired priests residence in Tonawanda, but phone calls there went unanswered Thursday evening.
The diocese is currently under federal investigation, and a source told 7 Eyewitness News that FBI agents were investigating child pornography, which is a federal crime. Agents have been notified about Stolinski's history, the source said, though it is unclear whether they have obtained information about his specific case in the multiple subpoenas prosecutors have served on the diocese.
KEY LINKS IN THE BUFFALO DIOCESE SEX ABUSE SCANDAL:
More than 120 clergy in the Buffalo Diocese have been accused of sexual misconduct, and Malone has been criticized for allegedly covering up recent abuses.
Part 1 of a 7 Eyewitness News I-Team investigation revealed that Malone returned Fr. Art Smith to ministry despite allegations of inappropriate contact with a child. Malone returned the accused priests to ministry after a previous bishop suspended him, documents obtained by the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team show.
Part 2 revealed that Malone allowed Fr. Robert Yetter to remain pastor of St. Mary's in Swormville despite multiple sexual harassment allegations by young men.
Part 3 cited church records that showed more than 100 priests in the diocese were accused of sexual abuse or misconduct. Malone in March released a list of only 42 priests "who were removed from ministry, were retired, or left ministry after allegations of sexual abuse of a minor."
The investigative series sparked Buffalo civic leaders to call for Malone's resignation and Catholics have mounted weekly protests in front of the Diocese of Buffalo Chancery. Malone in August held a news conference and refused to resign as Buffalo bishop.
In September, the State Attorney General launched a statewide investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and last week, it was revealed the FBI has launched its own criminal investigation into the diocese.
In October, "60 Minutes" aired a national investigative story on Bishop Malone and the Diocese of Buffalo.
In November, I-Team Chief Investigator Charlie Specht traveled to Portland, Maine. Malone served as bishop there before coming to Buffalo. There, Charlie spoke with advocates for victims of sexual abuse about how Malone had been accused of mishandling sex abuse cases. The I-Team also obtained new documents surrounding the cases which paint a much different picture of the bishop’s past.
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