BUFFALO, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - (warning: graphic content) Christ the King Seminary in Buffalo, New York says it's not retaliating against whistleblower seminarians, but sources tell Church Militant this is not true. Sources also claim the academic dean's actions in spearheading the investigation are unethical and give rise to a conflict of interest.
Last week, investigative reporter Charlie Specht of local ABC affiliate WKBW reported that three Buffalo priests had been suspended for engaging in "pornographic" conversations at a pizza party at Ss. Peter and Paul parish in Hamburg. The diocese took action against the priests — Fathers Art Mattulke, Bob Orlowski and Patrick O'Keefe — suspending them after testimony by several seminarians alleging vulgar conversation about homosexual sex, viewing and masturbating to images of a parishioner's penis, and jokes about a priest going to truck stops to give oral sex and bragging that "consuming the ejaculate was like communion for him," among other things.
Other aspects of the testimony are too graphic to include here.
In a follow-up report by Specht, inside sources claim the seminary was cracking down on seminarians to find out who leaked the confidential testimony to media:
Reeling from the fallout, officials at the seminary have undertaken a full-scale "leak investigation" that involves interrogations of the same seminarians who came forward to report wrongdoing — even though many Catholics are expressing gratitude to the seminarians for speaking up.
That's according to multiple sources who spoke with 7 Eyewitness News on the condition of anonymity, because they feared retribution from the seminary and diocese.
The seminary rector, however, is denying the allegations. In comments to Church Militant, Fr. John Staak, interim rector, rejected the idea of crackdown, writing in an email, "There is no investigation at the seminary to find out who spoke with WKBW."
"You can't pretend to be the good, moral, transparent diocese and then investigate people to make sure that we don't get our secrets out," says attorney @steveboyd7, who represents victims of child sex abuse. https://t.co/EmKibzHbZG pic.twitter.com/ZB0lUA6D28— Charlie Specht (@Charlie_Reports) May 3, 2019
Asked whether the seminarians were suffering retaliation in any way for having reported on the priests' conversations, Staak wrote:
Absolutely not from the seminary! Our primary mission is the education of our students and the formation of our future priests, deacons, and pastoral ministers. We are pleased the seminarians stepped forward to voice their concerns to seminary officials. We would hope they would continue to do so to help the healing process.
The academic dean, Michael Sherry, also denied the charges, telling Specht, "I unequivocally deny that I have initiated or otherwise been directed to conduct a 'leak investigation.'"
Inside sources who have spoken with Church Militant are contradicting Staak and Sherry's claims, however, confirming that Sherry was given direct orders to find the leak, which they believed were the same seminarians who submitted the testimony about priestly misconduct at the pizza party.
The seminarians were so concerned by the crackdown that they had a private meeting with Bp. Richard Malone, who reportedly pounded his fist on the table and said he would not tolerate retaliation for reporting conduct that needs to be reported.
Although it was not an official investigation, sources say it was an "aggressive" attempt by the rector and dean to find the mole. The sources make clear they believe the leak arose from someone other than seminarians.
The sources note that as academic dean, Sherry's conduct violates New York's Board of Education standards of impartiality, as well as the seminary's Standards for Accreditation of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, which requires "the avoidance of conflict of interest or the appearance of such conflict in all activities and among all constituents."
The Title IX officer at Christ the King Seminary recused himself from the investigation to avoid a conflict of interest, and sources claim Sherry's failure to do so as academic dean allegedly investigating a non-academic matter was unethical and resulted in a conflict of interest.
*5/6/2019:This article was updated with new information provided by inside sources.