Today, the Buffalo News published an op-ed written by Bishop Edward Scharfenberger claiming that the Diocese of Buffalo has adopted “rigorous policies and procedures in recent years that govern the reporting, independent investigation and evaluation of any accusation of sexual abuse of a minor or sexual harassment of an adult.” Bishop Scharfenberger’s contention that the Diocese of Buffalo takes these reports seriously is in stark contrast to the facts and claims laid out in the complaint filed by the New York Attorney General’s Office and does not accurately reflect the experience many survivors had when reporting their abuse to the diocese.
Nearly 20 years ago, the Vatican advised all bishops that cases involving sexual abuse of a minor are to be sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for it to decide whether to handle the case itself or instruct the diocese reporting the abuse to conduct a canonical trial. According to the NY AG’s investigation, the files produced by the Diocese of Buffalo on 69 priests accused of sexual abuse or misconduct “contained few, if any, reports of investigation, formal records of DRB [Diocesan Review Board] business, and referrals to the CDF.” If the diocese’s policies were as rigorous as Bp. Scharfenberger claims, then why did the diocese fail to send one single case of sexual abuse to the CDF between 2002 and 2017 as admitted under oath by Auxiliary Bishop Grosz?
Bishop Scharfenberger also states that it is “ludicrous” to claim, “secret files” exist and are “stored in some deep recess of the Catholic Center replete with lurid details that church authorities are shielding from law enforcement.” What is ludicrous is that the diocese named 78 priests on its list of priests with credible allegations of sexual abuse; it is facing hundreds of lawsuits naming even more perpetrator priests; and according to the AG, “The Diocesan Corporation has not produced files for approximately one-half of the priests on its published list.” This begs the obvious question, if the files are not kept secret and hidden away somewhere, then where are they?
Unfortunately, for 15 years following the Vatican’s directive, the Diocese of Buffalo failed in its handling of child sexual abuse allegations against its priests, instead implementing its own internal policies and procedures. Because of its dismissive attitude, repeated failures, and inability (or unwillingness) to do the right thing, the Diocese of Buffalo and its top officials were investigated and sued by the highest-ranking law enforcement agency in the State of New York and are dealing with a bankruptcy reorganization involving hundreds of sexual abuse survivors. They are facing a reckoning thanks to all the survivors who have stood up, shared their truths, and continue to fight for the child inside and for the safety of children everywhere. Maybe someday the hollow words of the Bishop of Buffalo will ring true.
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