Summoning outrage at the results of a recent 7 Eyewitness News investigation into the covering up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, abuse victims Friday called for the resignation of two bishops and urged law enforcement to begin a criminal investigation of the church hierarchy in Buffalo.
“Bishop Malone promised us that he was thoroughly reviewing the files of the Diocese of Buffalo,” said Robert Hoatson, a former priest and advocate of sexual abuse victims. “Well, we now know that that’s not true. The ones who have been thoroughly analyzing the files are you folks, the media.”
In calling for the immediate resignations of Bishop Richard J. Malone and Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz, Hoatson and other victims pointed to two a three-part investigative series by 7 Eyewitness News that revealed secret documents spelling out the covering up of sexual abuse by priests by multiple bishops in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.
Monday’s investigation revealed the existence of a secret letter reportedly sent to Grosz in 1992 detailing abuse by Fr. Dennis Riter. The seminarian who wrote the letter says he was told to keep quiet about the abuse, and Grosz now plays a key role in the diocese’s response to the abuse crisis.
“These two men must leave Buffalo immediately so that the children of Buffalo and this diocese can remain safe, because we know that under the leadership of these two men, children are not safe in this diocese,” Hoatson said. “With the documentation, with the reports that have been coming out of the Diocese of Buffalo, and very obviously, the proof of cover-up...Any law enforcement official who is willing now to take this bull by the horns [should].”
Malone rejected any calls for his resignation, saying in a written statement, “While these issues of abuse predate my arrival as Bishop of Buffalo in 2012, it has become my responsibility to lead our diocese through the proper handling of abuse in the past. I will continue to do so. We have made great strides, especially since 2003, in regard to protection of young people and the handling of sexual abuse cases.”
But former priest James Faluszczak -- himself a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in Erie, Pa. -- said the recent suspensions of Fr. Fabian Maryanski, Rev. Mark Wolski and Fr. Dennis Riter show the abuse by Catholic priests in Buffalo may still be occuring under Malone’s watch.
“Bishop Malone can’t say this is something going back decades that he inherited, the stench of which goes back decades,” Faluszczak said. “No...some of these reports have just come out now and he is presiding over this presently. It’s not just some problem that he can just wash his hands of, it’s his now.”
The group called on State Attorney General Barbara Underwood to launch an investigation similar to the one undertaken by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has been investigating multiple Catholic dioceses across his state and who has already lodged criminal charges against at least one priest.
“As soon as the attorney general [in Pennsylvania] announced that there will be a grand jury investigation, diocesan offices were raided,” Hoatson said. “Literally raided. And boxes and boxes of information were taken out of these places. In Long Island, the same thing happened. In Boston, the same thing happened.”
Such investigations typically focus on the actions not of individual priests but the pattern of how the church hierarchy dealt with the abuse. Through subpoenas, they can reveal previously secret diocesan files detailing the possible cover-up of abuse claims by dioceses.
“The benefit of a grand jury search warrant is that you can finally make the attempt to get into the secret archives of the diocese,” Faluszczak said.
But a spokeswoman for Underwood questioned whether the AG had “plenary criminal jurisdiction” to pursue crimes against children. She said the local district attorney would typically have jurisdiction in those cases.
Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn has expressed a willingness to push for the Child Victims Act -- which is currently opposed by the Catholic Church -- but it is unclear whether he would be willing to empanel a grand jury to look into the handling of abuse in Buffalo, which has seen an explosion of sexual abuse allegations in recent months.
The Diocese of Buffalo in March said 42 priests had been credibly accused of sexual abuse in the last few decades, but subsequent reporting has elevated that number to 68, leaving many to question whether the diocese continues to withhold information from the public. The 7 Eyewitness News I-Team’s investigation of the Fr. James A. Spielman case revealed documents that showed a pattern of shuffling around, quietly removing or “hiding” abusive priests as recently as the 1990s and early 2000s.
Historically, though, District Attorneys in Erie County have been loathe to take on the Catholic Church, even as DAs in other cities and states -- such as Philadelphia -- gained widespread public support for uncovering massive coverups in those dioceses. Those DAs were described by victims as their last and best chance for learning about the true scope of sexual abuse and gaining a measure of healing.