In November 2020, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. The lawsuit also includes former Bishop Richard Malone and former Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz. The lawsuit follows a two-year investigation. James alleges church leaders failed to protect children from clergy sexual abuse. The New York investigation also examined whether the diocese used church assets to cover-up the abuse.
According to James’ 218-page complaint, church leaders protected more than a dozen accused priests. The cover-up avoided sending priests to trial in the Vatican.
The complaint asks a judge to order the diocese’s interim bishop to follow the state’s rules for charities. The lawsuit also asks a judge to appoint an independent compliance auditor.
“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.”
A Novel Approach To Fight Against Clergy Abuse
James approached the case from a creative angle. James leveraged her office’s authority to investigate the church as a non-profit. The investigation found church leaders misused charitable assets to cover up the allegations.
Church Leaders Failed To Address Allegations Of Child Sex Abuse
Widespread allegations of priest sexual abuse of minors became a media focus in 2002 because of a Boston Globe expose. In response, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops established rules that require church leaders to investigate and quickly address sexual abuse allegations.
Malone and Grosz claimed to have followed those procedures. The attorney general’s office found they didn’t. Instead of referring priests to the Vatican when there were credible allegations, the Buffalo Diocese leadership allowed the priests to retire or take medical leave. By not reporting the abuse, the bishops abused their power and protected accused predators.
Buffalo Diocese Under Sexual Abuse Investigation For Two Years
In 2018, local investigative reporter Charlie Specht began a series investigating the Diocese of Buffalo. A former personal secretary to Malone provided internal church documents for his investigation.
New York State has been investigating the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo since July 2018. Other dioceses in the state are still undergoing investigation.
“Today it is a great day, and it has been a long time coming. Victims will finally have a voice. There can be no healing until your story is told.”
Many criticized how Malone handled sexual abuse allegations against local clergy. This led to a review of the diocese by the Vatican. After the review, Malone resigned in December 2019. No other bishop had resigned from office in the 172-year history of the diocese.
NY Child Victims Act Allows Child Abuse Survivors To Seek Restitution
In August 2019, the New York Child Victims Act (CVA) suspended the statute of limitations. This allowed survivors of childhood sex abuse to seek justice for decades-old allegations. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order extending the CVA. The extension allows victims to file claims until August 14, 2021.
The lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo seeks justice for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. It seeks to keep predatory priests and church leaders from serving in any charitable or non-profit organization in the state of New York.
The number of lawsuits filed against the Buffalo Diocese has grown into the hundreds. The diocese claimed a loss of $5 million in 2019. On February 28, 2020, the Buffalo Diocese filed for bankruptcy.
Advocates working to hold the Catholic Church accountable have celebrated the lawsuit. This victory helps seek justice and compensation for victims. It may also help prevent the cycle of abuse from continuing. Under the New York Child Victims Act, more than 200 survivors have filed priest abuse lawsuits against the diocese already. The diocese anticipates more than 400 lawsuits in total.
Specht, C. (N.D.) Fall From Grace. WKBW.
Stack, L. (2020, November 23). Buffalo Diocese Accused of Yearslong Cover-Up of Sexual Abuse. The New York Times.
Thompson, C. (2020, November 23). New York state sues Buffalo diocese over priest misconduct. The Associated Press.
Wright, D., Madden, P. (2019, December 4). Scandal-plagued Buffalo Bishop resigns following Vatican review of his diocese. ABC News.
(2020, August 3). Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Extending Look Back Window for Child Victims Act [Press Release]. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.
(2020, November 23). Attorney General James Takes Action Against Catholic Diocese of Buffalo for Failing to Protect Minors from Sexual Abuse by Clergy [Press Release]. The New York State Attorney General.