BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Update (6:44 p.m.): After this story was published, Bishop Malone said in a statement sent to St. Christopher's parents that he "has decided to put on hold the assignment of Fr. Joseph Gatto to St. Christopher’s Parish. This decision is the result of continued thoughtful evaluation and discernment of the parish’s needs. Bishop Malone will continue to consult with diocesan officials and others regarding Fr. Gatto’s next assignment."
Parents are outraged that two priests who had ‘improper’ sexual contact with parishioners will soon be sent by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo to parishes with elementary schools.
The Revs. Joseph C. Gatto and Samuel T. Giangreco Jr. were suspended last year after adult parishioners came forward to allege unwanted sexual advances by the priests.
But Bishop Richard J. Malone on May 30 announced he was reinstating both priests despite what the diocese called “improper conduct,” and the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team has learned Gatto will be sent to St. Christopher’s in Tonawanda and Giangreco to Our Lady of Charity in South Buffalo.
Both parishes have elementary schools and parents received the news in letters school officials recently sent home.
“It is beyond belief,” said one parent at St. Christopher’s. “It’s so disheartening. Obviously the situation is just ridiculous.”
The parent asked the I-Team to protect her identity because she said she fears her child would face retribution at school. At least two parents who spoke with the I-Team said a group of St. Christopher’s parents was organizing to protest the decision, and some parents at the school in South Buffalo also said they were upset.
Bishop Malone announced May 30 that he was reinstating Gatto and Giangreco because they underwent “professional evaluation and remedial measures” and because his review board determined “the improper conduct did not rise to the level that would require removal from active priestly ministry.”
Multiple men accused Gatto, the former president-rector of Christ the King Seminary, of making unwanted sexual advances on them when they went to the priest for counseling. Marty Lougen was one of them.
“It makes you angry, and it’s like, what was the point?” of coming forward to report the abuse, he said. “What they’re really doing is robbing us and others of being a Catholic. I don’t want to be around these people. It’s all about trust.”
St. Christopher’s Principal Cindy Bryk, in a newsletter recently sent to parents , quoted a message from the diocese and pastor Steven Jekielek. It described the process by which Gatto came to be reassigned to the school, then stated: “Bishop Malone has appointed him Senior Parochial Vicar here at St. Christopher’s Parish and we are happy to welcome him and his service to our Community.”
Gatto, Jekielek, Bryk and diocesan spokeswoman Kathy Spangler did not respond to requests for comment.
Giangreco’s assignment was described in a letter sent to parents at Notre Dame Academy in South Buffalo.
The letter, written by canonical administrator Rev. Bryan J. Zielenieski, falsely stated that Giangreco “was cleared of impropriety and returned to full ministry,” even though Bishop Malone’s statement sent on May 30 made no mention of “clearing” the priest and said only that the “improper conduct did not rise to the level that would require removal from active priestly ministry.”
Zielenieski, who did not respond to a request for comment, added in the letter, “I want to assure our families that Father Sam’s assignment is to Our Lady of Charity Parish and not to Notre Dame Academy. Your children may occasionally see Father Sam at our Okell [Street] location for the school mass, but I am continuing as the full Canonical Administrator.”
Giangreco did not respond to a request for comment, but the diocese previously stated the complaint against him was made by an adult female. Differentiations like that made little difference to the parent who contacted the I-Team.
“I just wish the Catholic Church would say to people, ‘This is not your vocation. Why don’t you just move on?’” the parent said.
The parent added, “These schools are already losing families simply because of the initial priest scandal. And then for this to happen, it was like the nail in the coffin. I fear that it’s only going to get worse.”