BUFFALO, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A former priest turned whistleblower is calling for Bp. Edward Scharfenberger to step down as the Buffalo diocese administrator.
Former New Jersey priest Robert Hoatson, advocating for victims of clergy sex abuse since 2002, called out Scharfenberger on Thursday for an apparent lack of transparency and for keeping an accused priest in active ministry, according to a report by The Buffalo News.
The report also noted that Scharfenberger has not released diocesan records on 173 Buffalo priests deemed molesters in clergy abuse lawsuits filed since the Child Victims Act took effect last year. The law, and a recent extension to it, gives victims of clergy sex abuse until Aug. 13, 2021 to bring a lawsuit — no matter how long ago the incident occurred.
One of these 173 priests, Fr. Donald J. Lutz, remains as pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Scharfenberger should remove Lutz from active ministry, says Hoatson, "out of an abundance of caution."
The lawsuit naming Lutz as a clerical predator was filed on June 30. But the diocese claims it only learned of his case just last week, according to Buffalo's spokesman Greg Tucker.
Tucker told The Buffalo News on Thursday, "At this time, the diocese has no information other than the limited allegations set forth in the anonymous complaint and has not made any determination (including the imposition of administrative leave) regarding this matter."
After Scharfenberger did become aware of the accusations against Lutz, said Tucker, he asked diocesan attorneys to encourage the plaintiff's lawyers to have their client inform the diocese of the particulars of the case. After receiving this information, the diocese would then start investigating Lutz. The bishop, according to Tucker, also passed the lawsuit on to the Erie County District Attorney's Office, which was supposed to investigate the allegation.
The spokesman assured The Buffalo News that Buffalo's administrator was committed to transparency.
Tucker asserted, "Bishop Edward Scharfenberger has reiterated often his support for victim-survivors and any who has suffered harm at the hands of clergy and by the inadequate acknowledgment — even denial — of Church leaders regarding the pain they have been forced to suffer and endure through no fault of their own."
These aren't the first red flags against Scharfenberger.
Church Militant reported that Scharfenberger in May restored a priest who was sidelined in March for making "creepy" remarks during confession. The priest, Fr. Peter Karalus, was cleared of any wrongdoing by the diocese, even though the Erie County DA John Flynn calls "creepy" the remarks that Karalus reportedly made to a 16-year-old boy during confession in 2011. Karalus is also resuming his position as Buffalo's vicar general.
A source connected to Buffalo's chancery told Church Militant the reinstatement of Karalus, with his checkered past to a position for which the source said he isn't qualified, is yet another red flag against Scharfenberger.
"District Attorney John Flynn called Karalus' actions 'creepy but not criminal,'" recalled the source. "Even so, is this the kind of priest that should be in active ministry? Is this the kind of priest who should be the vicar general of the diocese?"
Church Militant reported in March that Karalus' checkered past includes allegations of grooming boys while pastor of St. John Paul II parish in Lakeview/Hamburg, New York, according to the Buffalo insider. Church Militant obtained a copy of a letter drafted by the late Fr. Joseph Moreno and addressed to former U.S. papal nuncio Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò that contains these allegations against Karalus.
Speaking in March of Moreno's letter, the source stated, "I believe this letter was a part of the accumulated evidence that Fr. Joseph Moreno wanted to send to the nuncio and the Buffalo News. Unfortunately, some information may not have been received because Fr. Moreno was murdered."