BUFFALO, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Federal investigators are probing claims of clerical sex abuse cover-ups in the diocese of Buffalo.
In October, the Buffalo diocese confirmed it had been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Buffalo for a probe into the trafficking of minors across state lines for sexual abuse. The probe was connected to August's Pennsylvania grand jury report, which detailed allegations of sexual abuse against 301 Catholic clergy and religious across six of Pennsylvania's eight dioceses.
Now, local news reports are saying that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is working on an extensive, far-reaching probe into clerical sex abuse cases in the diocese of Buffalo. Mark Lynch, who says he was molested decades ago by a priest when he was 13, told The Buffalo News, "We sat at my kitchen table for about an hour, and I told them what happened. They were very thorough and already had a file on me. They had done their homework."
"They asked a lot of questions about who I spoke to, who I reported the incident to at the diocese," he continued. "They told me they hope to talk with everyone who has come forward with a complaint."
Lynch reported to the diocese of Buffalo in March — and later spoke to the press — about his claim that he was sexually abused by Fr. Joseph Schuster, now deceased, 50 years ago in a Niagara Falls rectory.
"They're really looking for proof of a cover-up," said Nicole Delisio Wright, an advocate for victims of clerical abuse. According to Wright, the FBI agents who met with her said they had already spoken with 40 people about allegations of sex abuse cover-up in the diocese of Buffalo.
Several other sources confirmed with The Buffalo News that they had spoken with FBI agents about sex abuse allegations involving the diocese of Buffalo. One such source, according to The News, was Wes Walawender, who was once a seminarian in the diocese of Buffalo.
Church Militant had an interview in August with Walawender and a clerical sex abuse victim, Anthony Ravarini. They testified that parish priest Fr. Dennis Riter forced the 6-year-old Ravarini into a sex act in a rectory and got semen all over the boy's shirt, face and hair.
Despite this allegation and others, Fr. Riter is currently in active ministry in the diocese of Buffalo.
Michael Voris confronted Bp. Richard Malone, head of the Buffalo diocese, during a chance encounter in an airport this November. One of the things Voris kept asking Bp. Malone about was the Fr. Riter case.
Bishop Malone refused to answer Voris' questions for several minutes as they walked through the airport. But he eventually gave a few words on the case of Fr. Riter, saying, "His case went through the entire process of the review board."
Malone has been accused of failing to punish predator priests.
Before he was head of the Buffalo diocese, Bp. Malone oversaw the diocese of Portland, Maine.
As head of the Portland diocese, Bp. Malone failed to act against sexual abuse in two egregious cases, according to a former employee of the diocese who was charged with investigating in both cases.
One of the cases was that of Fr. Paul E. Coughlin, a parish priest in Maine who, in 2004, was caught having a known pederast living with him in a parish rectory.
The Vatican simply gave Bp. Malone the go-ahead to remove Fr. Coughlin from active ministry, which he did. Two years later, Malone secretly returned Coughlin to ministry, but soon reversed this decision after outrage from his own chancery staff.
The other case in Maine was that of accused pedophile Fr. Thomas M. Lee. A diocesan review board found the allegations against Lee credible and removed him from ministry. But in March 2004, Bp. Joseph Gerry of Portland, Maine forwarded the case to the Vatican and requested that a special tribunal be created to hear the case. Later that year, Malone became head of the Portland diocese.
The Vatican heeded the request in 2006, and the three priests appointed to the tribunal heard the case in 2007. In 2008, they announced their ruling: Fr. Lee, they claimed, was essentially innocent. The tribunal said it believed that Fr. Lee's actions were "imprudent, but none of them were sinful in any respect."
Malone appealed to the Vatican to have the tribunal reconsider the case. The Vatican gave the okay, but the tribunal again found Fr. Lee innocent.
In both tribunal proceedings, the deacon who investigated the allegations was blocked from presenting his 60-page investigative report. He was also ordered not to contact Fr. Lee's victims about them testifying to the tribunal.
The fact that the tribunal was not given this information on Fr. Lee's alleged crimes may have been an important factor in the acquittal. While Bp. Malone did not have direct control over the tribunal, some say he should have done more to make sure the tribunal had all the facts.