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Ellicottville priest found guilty, two others cleared by Buffalo Diocese

Fr. Mierzwa was suspended after I-Team report
Posted at 2:10 PM, Mar 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-21 19:40:03-04

ELLICOTVILLE, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Buffalo Catholic Diocese has found one priest guilty of child sexual abuse and has cleared two others and returned them to ministry.

The diocese said in a statement Thursday that a child sex abuse allegation against Rev. Ronald B. Mierzwa, the pastor of Holy Name of Mary Catholic Church in Ellicottville, was "substantiated" by church investigators.

Meanwhile, allegations against Rev. John J. Sardina and Rev. Robert A. Stolinski "have not been substantiated, and they have returned to active ministry," Bishop Richard J. Malone said in the statement. Stolinski and Sardina are both officially retired but Stolinski had been serving at a church in Niagara Falls.

Mierzwa, of Ellicottville, was suspended in September of 2018 following a 7 Eyewitness News I-Team investigation into Bishop Richard J. Malone's handling of sexual abuse claims.

Mierzwa was not named in the story but in a phone interview before it aired, told the I-Team he didn’t remember allegations that he made a group of boys “parade around in their underwear.”

Church documents obtained by the I-Team showed the diocese in March 2018 considered him for inclusion on its list of abusive priests but did not list him. Church officials wrote in the document that Mierzwa "credibly denied" the allegation about the young boys before giving a more pressing reason: "He is still functioning as a pastor," they wrote, "and so should not be on list."

Even though Mierzwa denied the allegations to the I-Team, a source said he turned himself in to Bishop Malone a few days later, when he was formally suspended.

Mierzwa will remain on administrative leave while the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican in Rome, makes a final determination on his future with the church.

KEY LINKS IN THE BUFFALO DIOCESE SEX ABUSE SCANDAL:

More than 120 clergy in the Buffalo Diocese have been accused of sexual misconduct, and Malone has been criticized for allegedly covering up recent abuses.

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. Malone returned the accused priests to ministry after a previous bishop suspended him, documents obtained by the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team show.

Part 2 revealed that Malone allowed Fr. Robert Yetter to remain pastor of St. Mary's in Swormville despite multiple sexual harassment allegations by young men. 

Part 3 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." 

The investigative series 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 last week, it was revealed the FBI has launched its own criminal investigation into the diocese.

In October, "60 Minutes" aired a national investigative story on Bishop Malone and the Diocese of Buffalo. 

In November, I-Team Chief Investigator Charlie Specht traveled to Portland, Maine. Malone served as bishop there before coming to Buffalo. There, Charlie spoke with advocates for victims of sexual abuse about how Malone had been accused of mishandling sex abuse cases. The I-Team also obtained new documents surrounding the cases which paint a much different picture of the bishop’s past.

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