A lawsuit filed last month by New York Attorney General Letitia James alleges that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, as well as three bishops associated with the Diocese, participated in the coverup of child sex abuse by its priests. According to the New York Times, the lawsuit represents the state’s first legal action against the Catholic Church since it launched a series of investigations into allegations of abuse in 2018.
The lawsuit alleges that the Diocese “and its two former top leaders… used bureaucratic maneuvers to shelter more than two dozen priests accused of harming children.” The bishop’s names are Richard J. Malone and Edward M. Grosz. In a statement released in connection to the lawsuit, the Attorney General said, “For years, the Diocese of Buffalo and its leadership failed to protect children from sexual abuse… Instead, they chose to protect the very priests who were credibly accused of these atrocious acts. Individuals who are victims of abuse deserve to have their claims justly and timely investigated and determined, and the Buffalo Diocese refused to give them that chance.”
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo said in a statement that it would work with authorities to investigate the allegations and had “zero tolerance for sexual abuse of a minor or of sexual harassment of an adult.” According to the Times report, the diocese has 600,000 members. Bishop Malone was its leader until December 2019, when he resigned in connection to an investigation by the Vatican into his “mishandling” of the child sex abuse in the Diocese of Boston, where he “held a senior position” in 2002, when its own abuse scandal came to light.
In February 2020, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo filed for bankruptcy, reportedly partly due to “a deluge of lawsuits” by claimant alleging that they suffered child sex abuse from its priests. According to state prosecutors, Bishop Malone and Auxiliary Bishop Grosz covered up abuse by classifying “two dozen credibly accused priests” as “unassignable,” which the Times describes as “an administrative category that allowed them to retire or go on medical leave” rather than being referred for tougher scrutiny (and possibly banning from the priesthood) by Vatican authorities.
State prosecutors allege this categorization violated state law “because it constituted a misuse of charitable assets and a breach of fiduciary duty.” As the Times describes, the state’s use of civil laws concerning religious charities is a “novel legal strategy” for the prosecution of child sex abuse crimes in the Catholic Church.
Victims of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church can file their own lawsuits even if the statute of limitation has passed, thanks to the state’s new look-back law, which gives survivors (up to age 55) until August 2021 to file claims.
More information on the state’s action against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo is available via the New York Times.
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