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BUFFALO, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The diocese of Buffalo, New York has made its highest offer yet to a victim of priestly sex abuse.
On Tuesday, the diocese headed by Bp. Richard Malone offered an alleged victim of the late Fr. Michael Robert Freeman a record $650,000 to dissuade him from pursuing his case in criminal court. The settlement is so large because Freeman is accused of forcing the young man at gunpoint to engage in homosexual acts with him on multiple occasions in the 1980s.
The man, now 49, has 60 days in which to accept or decline the offer. The victim's lawyer, Steve Boyd, said on Tuesday the offer is missing a zero because the diocese knew of past allegations against Freeman and allowed him to stay in active ministry where he victimized his client:
We think a fair-minded jury would award not only significant damages for the horrific crimes that Father Freeman committed against this boy, who is now a man, but we believe we would be successful in asking for punitive damages because the diocese knew what Fr. Freeman was and they hid him and they did not remove him from ministry when they had the opportunity to do so and when they had written notice of his prior abuse of other boys.
Freeman was known to carry a 38-caliber revolver that the victim claims was used by the priest to threaten him if he did not take part in the homosexual abuse. The victim reported that Freeman would give him absolution afterward. Freeman, ordained by the diocese of Buffalo in 1972, was one of 300 priests named the Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August. The report notes that the Buffalo diocese knew of accusations against Freeman as early as 1981.
One of Freeman's accusers, Paul Barr of Niagara Falls, told The Buffalo News
that he notified the diocese about Freeman in the early 1980s. Barr alleges that Freeman molested him in 1980 inside the rectory of Sacred Heart Church in Niagara Falls. Homosexual predation against Boyd's client occurred subsequently in the 1980s.
The $650,000 offer, if accepted, would be the largest payout to date from Buffalo's victim's compensation fund. To date, a total of $2.2 million has been paid out to two dozen victims. Boyd said his client might accept the award to avoid the publicity of having to release his name in a jury trial. A lawsuit, while resulting in greater disclosure and most likely a larger settlement, also means the client would have to have his name entered into the public record and "there's a lot that goes with that," said Boyd.
Another abuse case that might never enter into the legal system involves an active priest of the diocese of Buffalo, who told parishioners in September that he himself was a victim of clerical sex abuse. The priest, Fr. Ryszard S. Biernat, stunned
his congregation with the news at St. John the Baptist Church in Tonawanda after Mass in September.
In addition to being a parish pastor, Biernat, 37, also serves as a secretary to Bp. Malone. He was ordained in the diocese of Buffalo in 2009. His remarks came in the midst of a maelstrom of controversy over how officials of the diocese have colluded in covering up clerical sex abuse in the diocese for years.
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