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BUFFALO, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A new report reveals that a priest of the diocese of Buffalo was allowed to quietly move down south after allegations of sexual impropriety and was left on the diocesan payroll for years.
Salemi never returned from that leave of absence. He moved to Georgia, but remained on the diocesan payroll until last week, when the diocese announced it was removing from its payroll 23 priests credibly accused of sexual misconduct.
Salemi's former parishioners recounted that the priest had anger issues. However, internal documents show Salemi was also accused of sexual misconduct against a young man he had met through his duties as a priest.
Former practicing attorney Lawrence Vilardo, now a judge, compiled a comprehensive account of the allegations against Salemi:
Fr. Salemi had dinner with a parish volunteer who is 21 years old. They apparently had quite a bit to drink, and Fr. Salemi invited the young man to stay with him that night. During the night, Fr. Salemi made a pass at the young man, suggesting the possibility of oral sex or manual masturbation. The young man immediately left, running out without his shoes on.
The alleged victim declined to comment on this story; however, a friend of the alleged victim confirmed many of the details. Analise Gerard said she reported Salemi's actions to Terry Connors, a longtime lawyer for the diocese, and soon after doing so, Salemi was quietly removed from the parish.
In 2012, Salemi wrote to Gerard on Facebook about the alleged incident. "I am remorseful and repulsed at the lack of trust," the priest said. "He was like a son and I royally screwed up ... I was not in a good place emotionally, spiritually or mentally to be ministering to him when I was let go from St. Greg's."
Gerard reported the incident after hearing that Salemi planned to invite another young man to stay at a church rectory. She said that she was happy the diocese removed him from ministry, but in hindsight, Gerard considers it part of the big-picture diocesan cover-up. Bishop Malone never told parishioners the full truth about Salemi's actions.
"We were trying to do the right thing, and I didn't like how they handled it," Gerard said. "We went through the channels we were supposed to, and it was very hush-hush, and he moved away and nothing was ever resolved publicly."
Salemi, now living in Georgia, declined to comment on the matter.
Meanwhile, it was only last week, after being investigated by a Buffalo news investigative team, the diocese acknowledged the allegations. It admitted that Salemi and another priest "were relieved of their faculties ... for other substantiated offenses and continued to receive salary and health benefits."
An unknown spokesperson for the diocese on Wednesday said in a statement:
Within months of receiving the allegations of adult misconduct, Fr. Salemi was determined unassignable, his faculties were removed and his case was presented to the Review Board even though it was not required by the charter. He never returned to ministry in the diocese but continued to receive financial support from the diocese in keeping with canonical obligations that require support for clerics no longer in active ministry but also not laicized. With the decision announced last week, Fr. Salemi will no longer receive salary or health benefits from the diocese.
Gerard was not impressed by the diocese's move.
"My first concern," she said, "was how many people has this happened to? And if there are other people out there, they should know they're not alone."
She also did not believe their response to the victim was adequate, seeing injustice in not aggressively reaching out to the young man or anyone else Salemi might have assaulted verbally or otherwise.
"[Salemi] got to disappear quietly, and yet there's people suffering," she said. "Their suffering was never publicly acknowledged. He got to run away like a coward, and people are still suffering for that. And he gets away scot-free. Until now."