BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The allegations of sexual abuse cover-up against Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone span two states and even have connections to the Vatican and Pope Francis.
They have outraged Catholics in the Diocese of Buffalo and have led to regular protests, shrinking Mass attendance, dwindling donations and state and federal law enforcement investigations of the diocese.
But Pope Francis has been slow to act and has taken no action against the embattled bishop.
Here are the allegations facing Bishop Malone, as documented over the past year in news reports:
1. Returning priest to ministry after inappropriate conduct with children and adults.
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, ignored three new allegations against the priest, misled others about the priest's history and repeatedly put him around young people despite warnings from parents and Catholic school officials.
Malone returned the accused priest to ministry after a previous bishop suspended him, according to documents from the diocese's secret archives. Bishop Malone explicitly stated -- in two letters of recommendation for Fr. Smith to be chaplain of a cruise ship -- that, “He is a person of good moral character and reputation. I know nothing which would in any way limit or disqualify him from this ministry. I am unaware of anything in his background which would render him unsuitable to work with minor children.”
The priest -- Fr. Art Smith -- then went on to allegedly touch two men at a Clarence nursing home. Malone's documents revealed he was previously aware of two other allegations -- one of sexual abuse of a seminarian -- but signed off on Smith's reassignment in 2015 and made the Vatican aware of the move after Fr. Smith wrote a letter to Pope Francis asking to be reinstated. Smith last year was finally removed after allegations he sexually abused a minor in the 1970s, and Malone has publicly apologized for his reassignment of Fr. Smith.
2. Keeping priest in ministry despite allegations of sexual abuse (young men).
Part 2 of a 7 Eyewitness News investigation revealed that Bishop Malone allowed Fr. Robert Yetter to remain pastor of St. Mary's in Swormville despite multiple sexual harassment allegations by young men.
Bishop Malone held an emergency news conference in August where he admitted to mistakes in the handling of adult sexual abuse. He announced the creation of a new task force but it's unclear when the group will meet.
3. Concealing sexual misconduct allegations against 60 accused priests.
Part 3 of a 7 Eyewitness News Investigation 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."
4. Allowing an accused priest to work at a diocese children's camp.
In April, a man said he was abused by former priest Fr. Joseph Rappl. The diocese knew of allegations against the former priest, records show, but did not suspend Rappl from Camp Turner -- the Diocese of Buffalo youth camp -- until 7 Eyewitness News reported on the connection. The allegations were later substantiated by a diocese review board.
Documents obtained by the I-Team show Rappl was also accused of showing pornography to a 14-year-old, but diocese officials originally kept him name off the list of accused priests because, as they wrote, “He does not fit our categories, and so we would have to change them to include him."
5. Returning a priest to ministry despite multiple child sex abuse allegations.
Bishop Malone caused scandal in July when he returned Fr. Dennis Riter to ministry despite three allegations of sexual abuse of minors. Riter denied the claims and a church investigator said one of them "could not be substantiated," but Malone returned Fr. Riter to a Dunkirk parish before the third alleged victim was interviewed. Riter maintains his innocence and is still assigned to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Dunkirk.
6. Keeping a priest in ministry despite previous claim of child sex abuse.
Bishop Malone allowed Fr. Fabian Maryanski to remain in ministry at a Clarence parish until The Buffalo News revealed he was accused of child sex abuse decades earlier. Malone was made aware of the allegations when he became bishop, according to a secret "black binder" of diocesan secrets obtained by 7 Eyewitness News. The diocese eventually found Maryanski guilty but did not include his name of a list of abusive priests until the survivor, Stephanie McIntyre, pressed the diocese to do so.
When pressed on this at a news conference, Bishop Malone said the allegations against Fr. Maryanski were made before his time. The bishop deferred to his lawyers on the handling of the situation.
7. Returning priest to ministry despite history of pornography problems.
Malone in March 31 returned Rev. Robert Stolinski 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 -- detailed 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.
8. Despite pledges of transparency, concealing sexual misconduct allegations against 25 accused priests.
A 7 Eyewitness News I-Team investigation in 2019 that found the Diocese of Buffalo was concealing the names of 25 priests accused of sexual misconduct or abuse led to anger and confusion among Catholics, priest abuse victims and the president of Saint Bonaventure University, Dr. Dennis DePerro, who called for Bishop Richard Malone to resign so the diocese could begin to heal and move forward.
Malone responded through a spokeswoman by denying a cover-up and issuing news releases criticizing the media and giving facts about sexual abuse in society.
9. Mishandling sex abuse in previous diocese (Maine).
In November, victim advocates in Portland, Maine, where Malone served as bishop there before coming to Buffalo, said Malone mishandled two cases of sex abuse in that diocese. The I-Team also obtained new documents surrounding the cases, including investigative reports from the diocese's internal investigator. The investigator said he is now cooperating with the FBI. Bishop Malone denies he mishandled either allegation.
10. National scandal featured on "60 Minutes"
In October, "60 Minutes" aired a national investigative story on Bishop Malone and the Diocese of Buffalo which included an interview with Malone's former secretary-turned-whistleblower Siobhan O'Connor and his former canon lawyer, Fr. Robert Zilliox. The secretary said she was compelled to provide confidential documents that showed Malone "knew of sexual abuse allegations, but did nothing." The bishop denied the charges.
11. Mansion controversy (spending of parishioner funds).
In April, Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone announced he would sell the bishop’s mansion on Oakland Place to help pay settlements to victims of clergy sexual abuse. But internal documents showed Malone quietly spent $200,000 in upgrades to get his new home "bishop ready," a move that angered parishioners who have seen many churches and schools closed in recent years. Bishop Malone's spokeswoman denied that the spending was unnecessary.
12. Legal tactics/treatment of victims.
Bishop Malone called for sexual abuse survivors to come forward in 2018 to report sexual abuse to the diocese. But victims said it was difficult to get through to the diocese in the weeks and months since the compensation program was announced. They also were stunned to find out in January that the diocese was excluding from the settlement program victims who came forward after March -- when the program was announced.
Additionally, abuse survivor Stephanie McIntyre said -- after a detailed, exhaustive letter she sent to the bishop describing her abuse -- Malone responded with a legalistic letter that showed little compassion for her pain. Catholic William Ogilvie also said Bishop Malone failed to respond to a letter asking the bishop why he had assigned Fr. Fabian Maryanski, who was accused of sexual abuse years earlier, to the parish where Ogilvie's daughters were altar servers.
13. Leaving two more priests in ministry despite allegations.
In November, Bishop Malone was asked by a radio host, “Are there any priests currently under your command, that have any allegations of any sort of assault against children?” Malone responded by stating: “Not that I know of.”
The next day, he suspended Msgr. Fred Leising and Fr. Ronald Sajdak, but internal diocesan documents show the bishop knew of the allegations months earlier but allowed the men to remain in ministry. Both men were later returned to ministry by the diocese but the alleged victims remain insistent that the diocese made the wrong move.
14. Allowing accused priest to run Buffalo's seminary before suspension
In September, Fr. Joe Gatto -- president and rector of Christ the King Seminary -- confirmed he was taking a "leave of absence" at the same time allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him. But days later, more men came forward to allege sexual misconduct by Gatto.
One of the men said he reported an allegation against Gatto in a letter to Bishop Malone six months earlier, but the bishop allowed Gatto to remain in his position. Malone appointed Gatto as seminary president in 2013, saying at the time, "I am extremely confident in Father Gatto's ability to build on the resurgence of the seminary and its primary role as the local center for the formation of men for the priesthood.”
15. Criticizing whistleblower who revealed cover-up
In October, Bishop Malone and his staff tried to turn Siobhan O'Connor's words against her, releasing old correspondence between the bishop and his former secretary and calling her comments "plainly and embarrassingly contradictory." O'Connor, a devout Catholic, said she was morally compelled to come forward and held no personal animus toward the bishop. She said she felt she was doing the right thing for her church by providing documents that spelled out a cover-up of sexual abuse.
16. Criticizing a high-ranking Cardinal and adviser to Pope Francis.
In October, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston called on the Vatican to investigate Bishop Malone for the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Buffalo. O'Malley is a top adviser to Pope Francis and serves as head of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors.
A spokesman for O'Malley said he was “deeply concerned by the absence of recognition of the abuse experienced by the survivors and the responses or absence of response provided to the survivors.” In response, Malone blasted Cardinal O'Malley, saying it was "unfortunate that Cardinal O’Malley never contacted the Diocese of Buffalo to check on the facts and hear our side of the story."
Malone was also removed from a national "Protecting God's Children" training video, along with another bishop who was accused of not protecting kids. O'Malley, quoted in a recent Atlantic magazine article, said of Malone and another accused bishop, “I think all of us in the bishops’ conference, when we hear about these kinds of blatant violations of our commitments to safeguarding—[it] is very, very painful, and very frustrating.”
17. Mishandling sexual harassment allegations at Alden parish.
In December, female parishioners at St. John the Baptist Church in Alden said parish administrator Deborah Brown was sexually harassing them. The women reported the allegations to multiple leaders of the diocese but said, "they brushed it under the rug." Brown was never suspended and remains parish administrator. Bishop Malone's spokeswoman said the allegations "did not warrant the removal of any personnel." in January, Bishop Malone re-appointed Brown to a three-year term as parish administrator.
18. Vacations at Cape Cod while diocese in crisis.
Bishop Malone has taken multiple vacations to Cape Cod, Mass., while the abuse crisis devastated Catholics in the Diocese of Buffalo. One vacation occurred around the time the diocese's abusive priest list was released, and another occurred when the diocese made the controversial decision to reinstate Fr. Dennis Riter despite allegations of child sexual abuse. Parishioners like Callie Banko were upset at the bishop's frequent vacations, stating, "But your job isn’t done here, and there’s a mess, and you need to clean it up, and you’re the guy to do it. And if you’re not the guy to do it, then you need to leave.”
The allegations 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 the FBI has launched its own criminal investigation into the diocese.