BUFFALO, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Buffalo chancery insider is exposing efforts by Bp. Richard Malone and Auxiliary Bp. Edward M. Grosz to cover up his sexual assault at the hands of a diocesan priest.
In an interview with WKBW investigative reporter Charlie Specht this week, Fr. Ryszard Biernat revealed that the bishops, using threats, forced him into silence after an alleged assault by Fr. Art Smith.
In 2003, Biernat left his native Poland to attend Buffalo's Christ the King Seminary. Once enrolled, he was assigned to live with Fr. Smith at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in South Buffalo. Shortly after, he alleges, Smith preyed upon him.
"Art Smith assaulted me sexually," Biernat told Specht. "At that time, I knew enough English to order [a] latte at Starbucks, not to report the sexual assault," he said. "You know, they don't teach you these words in English second language classes."
Biernat informed Grosz about the assault. The prelate's response, he said, shattered him.
"He said [it] was my fault because I [didn't] lock the door," Biernat recounted. "'You should have locked the door. And was Fr. Art Smith drunk, because if he was maybe he did not know what he was doing?'"
After blaming Biernat for his own abuse, Grosz threatened to block the seminarian's ordination.
"And then he said, 'and Ryszard, if you don't stop talking about this, you will not become a priest. You understand me? You understand me?'" Biernat told Specht.
The cover-up, he said, was in many ways worse than the assault:
That was, that was so hurtful, so difficult. That meeting, I thought, destroyed my life for years. It sent me into depression, into anxiety attacks. This was only my second year in a foreign country. I did not know the laws here, and I was turning to [the] Church for help. And then they re-victimized me again.
Biernat's attorney, Barry N. Covert, slammed Grosz's tactic as "pure blackmail."
"And the implication being, you won't be ordained," he told Specht, "you will be then sent back to your home country because you won't be on a student visa, you'll be taken right out of the country."
Biernat yielded to Grosz's intimidation and was ordained. In 2013, he was named Malone's priest secretary — a calculated appointment, Covert suggested.
"Why was Fr. Biernat chosen to be the secretary?" he asked. "Was it because they felt that they had this power over him that no matter what he heard, he couldn't disclose it, because he knew that he would be deported if he lost his job in the Catholic Church?"
Biernat revealed that as priest secretary, he suffered additional injustices at the hands of Malone.
The bishop required him to notarize documents allowing Smith to return to ministry, in spite of multiple allegations of sex abuse against him.
After learning of Biernat's abuse, earlier this year, a leading Buffalo Catholic contacted the Bishop's Council for the Laity, asking the group to press Malone to act. In response, Biernat said, the bishop instructed him to placate the concerned woman.
"Bishop Malone wanted me to call her to, to say that I'm okay, that, you know, everything is fine," he told Specht.
Biernat decided to expose Malone's pattern of cover-up after witnessing the bishop's attempts to silence seminarian Matthew Bojanowski, who alleges he was sexually harassed by Buffalo priest Fr. Jeffrey Nowak.
Bojanowski resigned last month from Christ the King Seminary, urging it to be shut down. Accusing Malone of trying to "sabotage" his priestly vocation, he called for the bishop to resign.
Likewise, Biernat is calling for Malone to step down. Inside the chancery, "there is no bigger crisis than when the truth comes out," he said. "Bishop Malone has to resign because he just does not care about the victims. He is a talented guy in many ways, but he does not care about the victims."
Biernat is the second chancery insider to expose Malone's pattern of cover-up.
After resigning as executive assistant to the bishop in August 2018, whistleblower Siobhan O'Connor went public with allegations of corruption, turning hundreds of pages of internal diocesan documents to Specht and his team.
Speaking to The Buffalo News on Thursday, O'Connor reflected on Biernat's decision to expose Malone and Grosz.
"I think Fr. Ryszard had hopes that he could change the diocese from within by continuing to work for the bishop, but he came to realize that nothing was going to change," she said.
"Like me, he witnessed all the cover-ups in the way Bp. Malone handled child abuse case," she continued. "He saw the way Malone spoke in public about these cases, as opposed to how he dealt with them in private. I just don't think Father could deal with it anymore."
"One thing the bishop is really good at," O'Connor added, "is turning people close to him into whistle-blowers."