The Buffalo Diocese of the Catholic Church has seen a wave of new sexual abuse allegations in the past few months as a result of the Child Victims Act, which allows victims of sex abuse to file complaints or charges against their alleged abusers long after the statute of limitations on the crime has passed.
In early June, three priests were placed on administrative leave by Bishop Michael Fisher after his office discovered a publicly filed complaint alleging the three priests coerced underage students to perform sex acts in the 90s, and on July 12th, a fourth priest was placed on administrative leave by the bishop after allegations surfaced that he abused a child at his church in the 80s.
The first complaint, filed anonymously in early June, alleges that the three priests coerced underage children to perform sex acts in the late 90s. The plaintiff, now a 35-year-old man from Erie County, was a student at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School at the time and states that although the priests never touched him, they did coerce him to have sex with underage girls and believes they may have filmed the interactions. He believes the recordings still exist and may have been distributed as child pornography.
All three priests have denied any wrongdoing. One was still actively pastoring at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church in Orchard Park, the second was retired but still active in the parish, and the third was pastor at SS. Peter and Paul Church in Williamsburg.
The complaint was not served to the diocese but rather was discovered by Bishop Fisher’s office while searching through a list of publicly filed complaints. According to Fisher’s office, the priests were placed on administrative leave immediately pending an investigation by the diocese’s Independent Review Board, and the Erie County District Attorney’s Office was notified.
The diocese reached out to the plaintiff’s lawyer to see if his client will assist in their investigation of the allegations of abuse and are awaiting a reply.
“We appreciate the diocese addressing these priests and doing the right thing, but at the same time, there is a trust factor,” said Paul K. Barr, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiff.
According to the filed complaint, the abuse started in 1994 and continued through 1998. Barr provided additional details about the allegations to The Buffalo News.
Barr said, “What happened was, he was about twelve years old and he’s in confessional and the priest shows him pornography. The priest asked him if he liked it. It was an adult woman and it kind of grossed him out.”
Barr went on to describe more of the encounter. “The priest asked, ‘What do you like?’ and he said ‘Girls my age.’ The priest said, ‘Like who?’”
A few weeks after this encounter, the plaintiff was summoned to the priest’s office and found the girl he had mentioned waiting there with the priest. It was then that the abuse started. Barr said the priest described the ‘mechanics’ of how sex works and left the room. Initially, there was only kissing and petting, but the encounters eventually led to intercourse between the plaintiff and several underage girls.
Although there is no physical evidence, Barr’s client believes the encounters were recorded. “He never saw the camera, but we strongly suspect it was filmed. The plaintiff has explained that the priests had a device in their hands and would press a button, and my client would hear a clicking sound,” Barr said.
The plaintiff did not realize until he was an adult that the clicking sound likely indicated the recording of the encounters.
“He believes these incidents occurred 12 to 15 times,” Barr said. According to the lawsuit, over the four-year period from 1994 to 1998, the three priests all became involved in planning and orchestrating the abuse.
The second complaint, filed only a few weeks later, alleges sexual abuse at the hands of another priest in Buffalo in the 80s, this time at the parish of St. Matthew. As in the previous case, the priest was placed on administrative leave pending a full investigation and decision by the diocese’s Independent Review Board.
As before, this lawsuit was discovered by a search of publicly filed complaints and was not served upon the diocese.
The accused 88-year-old priest denies any wrongdoing. He is retired but still active in the parish ministry. The victim is not assisting in the investigation.
“Bishop Fisher wishes to emphasize that the decision to restrict [the accused]’s priestly faculties at this time is in no way intended to indicate his guilt or is it a determination about the truth or falsity of the complaints,” according to a statement from the Diocese of Buffalo.
Since its passage in 2019, the Child Victims Act has brought to light staggering allegations of institutionalized sexual abuse that have rocked New York’s private and public institutions to their core.
The law has directly led to over 6,000 complaints and lawsuits alleging abuse at the hands of individuals and institutions, such as Boy Scouts of America, USA Gymnastics, and the Catholic Church. Although some suits name individuals, 97% of suits filed are against institutions that allowed abuse to go on unhindered, and in some cases, actually assisted in it.
The Boy Scouts of America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2020 as it faced hundreds of lawsuits from abuse victims. Four of New York’s Catholic dioceses: Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, and Long Island’s Rockville Center, have also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allows them to ease the burden of litigation by addressing abuse claimants as a single class.
If you or someone you love has suffered abuse at the hands of someone charged with their care, don’t wait any longer. The Look-Back provision of the Child Victims Act expires in August of 2021, so call the New York sexual abuse attorneys of Hach & Rose, LLP today for a free and confidential consultation. Let us put our years of experience to work for you. Call (212) 779-0057 today.
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