BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Monsignor William G. Stanton spent more than two decades as pastor of St. Ambrose Catholic Church in South Buffalo.
He died in 2004, but the church’s stained-glass windows and bronze memorial plaque stand as symbols of Fr. Stanton’s legacy of being open to change in the Catholic Church.
But now a new sort of change is coming as a parish comes to grips with allegations that Stanton was a child abuser. Two memorials to him in the rear of the church -- a bronze plaque and framed vestments -- will soon be taken down.
“That was very fulfilling to me,” said Kevin Brun, an abuse survivor and member of the Buffalo Survivors Group, which advocates for victims of child sexual abuse. “I think it’s a very important first step if we’re going to implement real, tangible change within the Diocese of Buffalo."
Brun first approached leaders at the former St. Ambrose, which is now named Our Lady of Charity Parish. Soon after, the parish council voted unanimously to remove the plaque, Fr. Steven A. Jekielek, the church’s pastor, confirmed to 7 Eyewitness News.
“The courage that they showed, to look to their conscience and their moral fiber and come to a decision that’s right and just...I’m hoping that other parishes in Western New York who have similar memorials will follow suit,” Brun said.
Stanton was vice principal at the now-closed Bishop Turner High School in the 1960s, where most of the abuse is alleged to have taken place.
One man came forward in 1993 to allege sexual abuse in high school and Stanton denied the allegations. Another came forward in 2008, also alleging sexual abuse in high school in the 1960s.
After the sex scandal broke in 2018 under former Bishop Richard J. Malone, two more men filed lawsuits in State Supreme Court, alleging abuse when they were 14 and 15 years old.
According to court records, Stanton is also accused of abusing an 8-year-old girl at St. Bridget’s Church in Newfane, where Stanton was assigned in the 1970s, before he came to St. Ambrose.
He is also accused of ordering a 12-year-old altar boy to fondle himself as Stanton masturbated himself from behind at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic School in Niagara Falls in 1952 or 1953. Later, he allegedly struck the boy so hard that he lost hearing, court documents stated.
After failing to name Stanton on its original abuse list, the Diocese of Buffalo in late 2018 included Stanton on a list of priests with “substantiated” allegations of child sexual abuse. The list does not specify how many allegations have been made against each priest.
7 Eyewitness News reached out to diocesan attorneys at Connors LLP and to a diocesan spokesman to ask how many total allegations Stanton faces, but they did not provide an updated figure.
“The destruction that they caused, the innocence that they took away from so many children, and the dignity and self-esteem they took away from adults -- that can never be restored,” Brun said.
Attorney and abuse survivor Paul Barr cautions that the diocese has to do more than take down plaques before trust is restored.
“I hope that the diocese doesn’t try to make it appear as though they’re doing everything that survivors want done,” Barr said. “Because there’s a lot more work that needs to be done.”
Malone resigned under pressure 18 months ago, yet none of his successors have agreed to release the files on abusive priests at the urging of survivors. Neither interim Bishop Edward Scharfenberger nor new Bishop Michael Fisher has reinstated Fr. Ryszard S. Biernat, the whistleblower who helped expose the cover-up.
“There's so much more that needs to be done,” Brun said. “We’ve been in this bankruptcy process for almost two years now and we’ve moved forward very little. This has been a struggle from day one.”
Click here to view the "Fall From Grace" page on the Diocese of Buffalo.