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BUFFALO, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Buffalo's Bp. Richard Malone is discounting eyewitness testimony of a former seminarian who was on the scene when a Buffalo priest allegedly abused a 6-year-old boy in 1992.
On ABC's Nightline that aired on Friday, Malone dismissed multiple accusations of sex abuse lodged against Fr. Dennis Riter, saying they have "no merit." The bishop's dismissal includes an eyewitness account by then-seminarian Wes Walawender involving Riter's alleged sexual abuse of a 6-year-old boy in the rectory at Queen of All Saints parish in Lackawanna, New York. The diocese had placed Walawender under Riter's supervision at the parish as part of his seminary training.
Walawender told Church Militant in August 2018 that he had submitted his eyewitness testimony to the diocese in the form of a letter in 1992 shortly after the abuse occurred. But Buffalo's only response, said Walawender, was to eventually dismiss him from its seminary program.
Malone is writing off Walawender's letter because his diocesan review board accepted the negative findings of Scott Riordan, a local defense attorney, who Malone appointed in March 2018 to investigate the multiple allegations of sex abuse against Riter. In his report, Riordan claims Walawender's letter was fabricated.
"With regards to the 1992 complaint," writes Riordan, "it appears to be completely fabricated, as the complaint contains factual allegations that are wholly inconsistent with the conduct of a sex offender."
Church Militant reached out to Walawender, who attests that what he wrote in 1992 was completely accurate.
"I firmly stand by all facts as I witnessed them, as they are spelled out in my letter of May 9, 1992," affirms Walawender.
In April 1992, Walawender was in his third year of theology at Buffalo's Christ the King Seminary when he and the boy's late paternal guardian, Tom Hendler, witnessed the boy running out of Riter's office. Almost immediately, Hendler drew Walawender's attention to the fact that the boy had semen on his head, face and shirt. The boy's maternal guardian, the late Susan Hendler, was present outside the rectory at the time of the incident and also witnessed the semen on the boy.
In his report detailing his investigation of Walawender's 1992 letter, Riordan further notes that no police report was filed.
"Moreover, there is no record that a complaint was ever filed with the Lackawanna Police Department to support [redacted] complaint," Riordan writes. "Thus, I find that there is no merit to either of the allegations made against Father Riter."
Church Militant asked Walawender why a police report was never filed by the boy's paternal guardians. Walawender told Church Militant the parents cleaned up the boy and went to police the next day. Police officers did go to Riter's parish, said Walawender, but said they couldn't file a report as the evidence — meaning the semen — was gone:
Tom told me they went to the police in Lackawanna the day after the abuse happened to file a police report but weren't allowed to. He told me two police officers were dispatched and went with him to Queen of All Saints Church where the abuse happened. He said the police went inside the rectory while the family waited outside. Tom said the police came outside and told him it was their own fault that they couldn't file a report because they had taken their son home and cleaned him up instead of going to the police or a hospital first. So, there was no evidence to prove the case.
In May, Church Militant reported that retired police officers from Buffalo, New York, just six miles from Lackawanna, attested to the fact that from the late 1960s and well into the 1990s, it was an "unwritten policy" to not arrest Catholic priests involved in sexual misconduct.
Former vice squad detective Martin Harrington, who retired in 1995 after 17 years with vice squad, said, "The department's unwritten policy was that Catholic priests did not get arrested." He added that this practice of letting clergy go "only extended to Catholic priests," noting, "If we caught clergy from other religions, we arrested them."
Harrington's former vice squad lieutenant, Martin Jurewicz, backed Harrington's testimony: "When I joined the vice squad in 1968, the department had just changed its policy on priests. You used to just let them go. Starting around 1968, when you picked up a priest, you had to call the bishop's office."
The defense attorney representing Riter's alleged victim, Mitchell Garabedian, is baffled as to how Riordan could submit his report without first interviewing the alleged victim.
Garabedian said, "If you were going to investigate a claim of sexual abuse," Garabedian said, "wouldn't you want to speak to the victim?"