In a recent letter to the Buffalo News, the chairman of the Diocese of Buffalo’s Review Board, retired Judge Salvatore R. Martoche, attempted to explain the board’s process.
Judge Martoche most likely has the best of intentions, but unfortunately, he is sorely mistaken about the efficacy of the (IRB) (or any internal review board), their relationship with the bishop, or what it takes to create a trauma-informed transparent environment of trust that keeps children safe.
Independent, internal or lay review boards are not new. They were instituted nationwide because of the 2002 sex abuse and cover-up scandal in Boston. The bishop-formulated Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People required Buffalo, like every other diocese in the United States, to institute an internal board and immediately review cases. And since they were instituted, members of these boards—from survivors to former state governors—have stepped down in disgust at the secrecy and cover-up.
Some of the worst of that cover-up comes out of the Diocese of Buffalo itself. The New York Child Victims Act forced disclosures of names and numbers of accused priests that then-Bishop Malone, and bishops before him, refused, neglected, or “forgot” to make to his then-review board and the public. When Malone’s former secretary came forward as a whistleblower to expose how many accused priests she knew were being hidden, the disclosures went from “drips and dribbles” to a flood. There are now more than 200 accused priests in the Diocese of Buffalo.
If the Bishop believes that the IRB is so effective and important, why didn’t he ensure that its members knew about these cases? Or did the Bishop just decide that these cases weren’t relevant, even though many of these men have multiple accusations and decades of victims?
In his letter, Judge Martoche said, “almost all claims that come before us involve conduct alleged to have occurred several decades ago, and sometimes entail memories that have faded, witnesses who have died and evidence that has been lost.” This line is not new. It is the same line that bishops and review boards have been saying for almost 20 years.
Yet, hundreds and hundreds of survivors who were supposedly deemed “not credible” by the Diocese of Buffalo and the review board are credible enough for the civil justice system.
Would you talk about your most traumatic, shameful, and embarrassing experience in front of a group of people who dismiss your experience as “a long time ago”? Would you expose your pain to an arm of the institution that refused to publicly name hundreds of credibly accused child predators?
Child sexual abuse thrives in secrecy. The Bishop’s review board takes an “oath of confidentiality” and also claims that “the fact that ‘little explanation’ is provided to the public is an unfortunate but necessary part of our process.”
That, in and of itself, is a threat to public safety.
How do we fix this?
If the Bishop was truly invested in public safety, he should demand that the review board get immediate access to and review EVERY secret personnel file in the Bishop’s office. He should demand the review board get immediate access to and review every IRCP filing. If the review board’s oath of confidentiality is so strong and sincere, they should be allowed to review every single file and claim. Maybe then, the review board will learn that evidence is not lost.
And by speaking to survivors in open, transparent, and trauma-informed settings, maybe they will learn that memories do not fade.
And by speaking with the public, openly and honestly, about sexual abuse and cover-up, they will learn that witnesses are still alive and well.
Until then, survivors will continue to avoid internal review boards.