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NYS Attorney General files lawsuit against Buffalo Diocese for failing to protect minors from clergy sex abuse

Lawsuit claims church leadership failed to respond to abuse allegations and engaged in covering up credible claims of improper sexual conduct by its priests.

ALBANY, N.Y. — The Diocese of Buffalo is being sued by the NYS Attorney General's office for failing to protect minors from sex abuse by members of its clergy.

The lawsuit accuses the Diocese, former church leaders Emeritus Bishop Richard Malone and former Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz of failing to respond to sex abuse allegations and engaging in a cover-up of credible claims of improper conduct by priests.

The lawsuit is the result of a two-year investigation into the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults within the New York dioceses of the Catholic Church. The investigation found allegations of improper conduct by priests in the Buffalo Diocese were  "inadequately investigated, if at all, and were covered up for years". It's also alleged that even when church leaders found allegations to be credible, accused priests were sheltered from public disclosure, referring to them as "unassignable" , allowing them to retire or go on purported medical leave rather than being referred to the Vatican for possible removal from the priesthood.

"When trust is broken with spiritual leaders, it can lead to a crisis of faith. For years, the Diocese of Buffalo and its leadership failed to protect children from sexual abuse,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “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 timely investigated and determined, and the Buffalo Diocese refused to give them that chance. While we will never be able to undo the wrongs of the past, I can guarantee that my office will do everything in its power to ensure trust, transparency, and accountability moving forward.”

The civil complaint alleges that contrary to the Diocese's own policies and public statements concerning sexual abuse by priests, more than two dozen clergy members were not referred to the Vatican for potential removal. Instead, the AG's office says the priests were protected from public disclosure, resulting in the waste or misuse of charitable assets to support them and the failure to provide victims with public vindication of their claims.

The lawsuit is based on a detailed examination of the personnel history of 25 priests who were accused of abuse. After extensive delays, many of them were ultimately removed from the priesthood, but the cases were not sent on to the Vatican in a timely manner for trial and possible removal.

In addition to the lawsuit, a separate motion calls for making public the accused priests' names and alleged conduct outlined in the complaint.

The complaint seeks to have Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, the apostolic administrator for the Diocese of Buffalo and its current leader, to comply with mandatory policies and procedures of the diocese. It also calls for the appointment of an independent compliance auditor to monitor and review the diocese's compliance to its policies and procedures relating to clergy sexual abuse. 

Interim Communications Director Gregory Tucker released the following statement on behalf of the Diocese:

"We will be reviewing this lawsuit just announced by the New York Attorney General and weighing the Diocese’s response. In the meantime, we wish to reiterate that there is zero tolerance for sexual abuse of a minor or of sexual harassment of an adult in the Diocese of Buffalo by any member of the clergy, employee or volunteer. The Diocese has put in place rigorous policies and protocols governing required behavior as well as a code of conduct which all clergy are expected to abide by. Moreover, the Diocese has committed to full cooperation with all civil authorities in both the reporting and investigation of alleged crimes and complaints.”

The lawsuit also seeks restitution and other concessions from former Bishop Malone and Auxiliary Bishop Grosz, who has since resigned since the investigation began.