BUFFALO, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The scandal-plagued diocese of Buffalo is now the subject of a RICO lawsuit.
Acting on behalf of almost two dozen predator priest victims, on Wednesday, Buffalo-area attorney Kevin Stocker filed suit against the diocese, alleging "a pattern of racketeering activity" that concealed and facilitated clerical sex abuse.
The lawsuit also names as defendants Bp. Richard Malone, Bp. Emeritus Edward U. Kmiec, Christ the King Seminary, the USA Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus, various diocesan-affiliated funds as well as multiple Buffalo-area priests, parishes and high schools.
Enacted in 1970, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) was designed to combat organized crime. Owing to "the number of priests involved, the extent of the cover-up and the transferring around to unsuspecting parishes and parents," RICO is undoubtedly applicable to the Church, Stocker told Church Militant on Friday.
"When you take a step back and look at all the dioceses in this country, all the priests, and all the victims involved — and then also worldwide — it's a problem," he said. "It comes across to me as an organization that has criminal activity and is making money based on that activity. This is the RICO definition."
Stocker said that he sees "the same organizational hierarchy" between corrupt dioceses and the organized criminal enterprises RICO was designed to eradicate.
"If you look at the structure of the Church, money flows from the parishes — from the ground level — up to the bishops, up to the cardinals, up to the Pope. It's structured similarly," he observed. "As a Catholic, whose kids go to Catholic schools, I hate to even make that analogy, but I dare somebody to tell me I'm wrong."
Illustrating the extent of the pattern of cover-up in Buffalo, Stocker recounted a story of abuse involving area priest Msgr. Michael Harrington (now deceased):
There was a boy — he's now 61 years old — but he had a paper route, he delivered papers to an old bishop here in Buffalo. He told the bishop he was going to New York City with a priest — Harrington was his name. Now, allegedly, the diocese knew about the priest's inappropriate prior behavior. He said that the priest abused him for five days in New York City. He went back to the bishop and the bishop asked how his trip to New York City was, and he started crying. He said the bishop knew why he was crying. Now, the bishop owed him 55 cents on his paper route tab. The bishop gave him a $5 tip and told him not to speak to anyone about the abuse.
After that story was published, I compared my notes. I have a similar client who was an altar boy, and that the same priest, Harrington, took him to New York City — it was the same story. And then another person emerged. That same priest took him to Canada — similar story. So, they've known for a very long time of the systemic problem of pedophile behavior and they've done nothing to address it. They've covered it up, and they enabled it to continue.
After Stocker filed suit on Wednesday, a diocesan spokesperson responded with the following statement: "The Diocese has received a document from the media which is filled with procedural deficiencies and irresponsible claims against parties, some unnamed, who have no connection to the Child Victims Act. If the claim is pursued, the Diocese and all related entities will respond appropriately."
When asked if he wished to comment on the statement, Stocker replied: "Their story is well-known, and obviously they're going to have to take whatever paths they can to try to minimize their damages. This has been a long time coming. Their threats directed against me do not surprise me. It's going to be a battle."
Stocker recounted another apparent effort at damage control — an internal diocesan email, delivered to him by an inside source, referencing the shredding of "confidential items."
He said the email, dated last September, described an effort to seal "confidential records" in boxes "so that nobody could see them" and referred to "a shredding company coming to destroy them."
"With a federal investigation underway, a New York state investigation underway, and these civil lawsuits, there should be no documents that are being shredded," said Stocker. "This is something we're going to have to address in court, but I think the federal and state governments should address it as well."
He also accused the Buffalo diocese of financial irregularities.
"It appears that they've been committing fraud and steering money out of the Church and into subsidiaries in terms of hiding their true financial assets," he said. "That's part of our suit as well — trying to pierce corporate veils and causes of action for fraud."
"Again, they want to say they're transparent," said Stocker, slamming the corruption that has consumed his diocese and many others across the world. "It's a tough message to listen to — that they want to be transparent and move on. I don't know how anybody can believe the organization anymore. It saddens me to even say that."