News7 News I Team


I-TEAM: Diocese of Buffalo attempts to keep child sex-abuse documents secret, loses appeal

7 News Freedom of Information Law request prompts release
Posted: 5:00 AM, May 24, 2023
Updated: 2023-05-24 05:00:09-04

Transparency Matters To Us

Following the Diocese of Buffalo's settlement in the lawsuit brought on by the New York attorney general, 7 News began requesting material the diocese produced in connection with the AG's investigation. The I-Team is making all of the documents publicly available for the first time.

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) —Despite a settlement by the Diocese of Buffalo in the lawsuit brought on by New York's attorney general and promises made by Bishop Michael W. Fisher, there is not a new era of transparency within the Catholic diocese.

“As I’ve said since becoming Bishop in January of 2021, it’s not what we say but what we do," said Bishop Fisher at a press conference announcing the settlement.

Over the past several months, the bankrupt Buffalo Diocese spent tens of thousands of dollars in a failed attempt to prevent the public from seeing documents and video produced in the state's investigation.

The day following the October settlement, the 7 News I-Team submitted a Freedom of Information Law request (FOIL) to the State of New York, requesting video testimony of former Bishop Richard J. Malone and Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz.

The I-Team also requested the exhibits, or internal church documents, that were subpoenaed and used in the investigation.

Both the diocese and former bishops were allowed the opportunity to explain why the state should not release the requested material to the I-Team.

The attorney general's office received requests from lawyers representing the former bishops, as well as lawyers who separately represented the diocese.

“I find your arguments unpersuasive as they pertain to the records for which you claimed confidentiality,” an assistant attorney general wrote in a denial letter to Dennis C. Vacco, himself a former attorney general, who represents both former bishops. “Accordingly, I am releasing all the responsive records for which Bishops Malone and Grosz have asserted trade secrets.”

A lawyer representing the diocese from elite multinational law firm Jones Day filed a similar request with the state. Lawyers for Jones Day who assist the diocese have rates ranging from $900 to $1,100 an hour.

The disclosure of records would "severely disrupt the stakeholders’ negotiations in the bankruptcy case and cause substantial injury to the diocese as it tries to achieve a resolution,” Jones Day attorney Todd Geremia wrote to the state.

State, Stakeholders Disagree with Diocese

“It would enhance the bankruptcy negotiations," said attorney Mitch Garabedian, portrayed in Academy Award winner "Spotlight," who represents dozens of Buffalo-area sex abuse survivors. "It would provide evidence that the Diocese of Buffalo is trying to hide. It would provide evidence that would help clergy sexual abuse victims try to heal and maybe help the victims, the committee and and the Diocese of Buffalo reach an agreement."

Investigator Sean Mickey: “How important is it for the public and the survivors to be able to finally see all of these secret files?”

Mitch Garabedian: “Oh, it is crucial. It's crucial because transparency helps victims try to heal with that information. It's crucial because victims will not feel alone.”

The I-Team met with abuse survivor Michael Whalen on Good Friday, at the same location where his 2018 press conference sparked scandal in the diocese with the revelation that he was abused by an Orchard Park priest as a child.

“And you know it's amazing that Fisher and all the bishops before him, they all said that there'll be more transparent, that we're all family," said Whalen. "But yet here we are five years later, and there's more secrecy now than ever before, you know, I mean, it's still the same game plan.”

The diocese attempt to block the release wasn't finished. Lawlor Quinlan, who represents the diocese alongside Terry Connors, submitted an appeal to the state.

Quinlan argued the “disclosure of certain documents would cause substantial injury to the diocese’s competitive position” and “such disclosures would require a lot of redacting.”

The AG's office fired back in a final denial of the appeal, writing, "individuals claiming to have suffered sexual abuse – are not “competitors” of the diocese.”

“Competitors of what," questioned Whalen. "For the truth? The competitors for transparency? I've came forward right here five years ago, told my story about the pain and the suffering and the disgrace that I felt that happened to me from a priest."

Despite repeated attempts and requests, Bishop Fisher would not agree to an interview with the I-Team.

Through financial disclosures made public in its bankruptcy, the I-Team calculated over $35,000 was spent by the diocese fighting the release of records from the AG's investigation. That figure includes the request from the I-Team.

It also paid thousands of dollars to communications consultants at The Tucker Group in part for "communications planning" regarding the release of "AG testimony of Bishops Malone/Grosz."

Investigation References I-Team Reporting

In winter 2019, the former bishops each gave sworn testimony to the attorney general's team while flanked by their attorney.

"I will be very blunt, this was -- these were dumb things to do," said Bishop Malone. "I admit that."

Interviews of both bishops focused heavily on Fr. Art Smith, who was the focus of an I-Team investigation into the diocese.

In 2011, Smith caused a controversy when he sent a Facebook message using the words "love you" to an eighth-grade boy.

He was suspended while parishioners were told that he was taking a "medical leave."

Bishop Malone returned Smith to ministry where he was further accused of touching two young men while ministering in a nursing home.

Malone would then write Smith a glowing letter of recommendation for the Apostleship of the Sea cruise service - which provides priests for cruises.

But all the way back in 2004, Auxiliary Bishop Grosz was made aware that Smith was accused of assaulting another member of the church.

Grosz, who described himself as the diocese's "point man" on abuse cases, downplayed his knowledge of Smith's alleged sexual assault of then-seminarian Ryszard Biernat.

Fr. Ryszard would later become a key whistleblower in the I-Team's investigation into the crisis in Buffalo.

“I learned about the incident when somebody showed it to me on an iPhone that he was on Channel 7 news and what it involved, which was news to me," said Bishop Grosz.

"What did you hear him saying on television," questioned a member of the attorney general's team.

“That this was a crime and this is terrible," Grosz responded. "I happen to just turn it on when that happened to be on Channel 7.”

Bishop Grosz claimed that all he knew of the incident prior to the 2019 I-Team report was that Smith, "walked into the room and tried to get into bed with him period, that's it."

However, handwritten notes by Bishop Grosz obtained by the AG's office show that he was aware of an "allegation: attempted sexual abuse" by Smith in 2004.

“That was, that was so hurtful, so difficult," said Fr. Ryszard. "That meeting, I thought, destroyed my life for years. It sent me into depression, into anxiety attacks. This was only my second year in a foreign country. I did not know the laws here, and I was turning to church for help. And then they re-victimized me again.”

A 2015 document Bishop Malone sent to the Vatican also confirmed Fr. Ryszard's account of the incident.

"And so I -- this is my mistake," Bishop Malone said. "It was the dumbest thing I have ever done as Bishop was to sign that good standing letter for Smith thinking, again, it was within the rubric of very limited ministry and stuff [...] Thank god nothing came, you know, from that but it was stupid."

Testimony from the bishops in these interviews helped form the basis of the AG's lawsuit against the diocese.

Bishop Richard Malone Testimony

Bishop Richard Malone Testi... by Sean Mickey

Bishop Richard Malone Exhibits

Bishop Edward Grosz Testimony

Bishop Edward Grosz Testimony by Sean Mickey

Bishop Edward Grosz Exhibits

Timeline of the crisis within the Buffalo Catholic Diocese
The 7 News I-Team broke multiple stories about the mishandling of sexual abuse cases within the Buffalo Diocese. Learn more about our investigation and Fall From Grace here:


Sean Mickey

Sean Mickey is an Investigative Producer and Reporter for WKBW. 

I-Team Photojournalist Jeff Wick contributed to the images and video in this report.

Have a tip for the I-Team? Email them at

You can read more I-Team investigations here