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Catholic Diocese Submits to Independent Audit to Settle New York AG’s Lawsuit Over Handling of Child Sexual Abuse Cases


Saint Louis Roman Catholic Church on Dec. 4, 2019, at Edward Street in Buffalo, New York.

A Catholic diocese in upstate New York agreed to submit to independent audits from a former FBI agent in order to settle an attorney general’s lawsuit over its handling of childhood sexual abuse claims.

“For far too long, the Buffalo Diocese and its leaders failed their most basic duty to guide and protect our children,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “In choosing to defend the perpetrators of sexual abuse instead of defending the most vulnerable, the Buffalo Diocese and its leaders breached parishioners’ trust and caused many a crisis of faith. As a result of this action, the Buffalo Diocese will now begin a much-needed era of independent oversight and accountability, and my office will continue to do everything in its power to restore trust and transparency for the future.”

“No individual or entity is above the law, and those who violate it in New York state will always be held accountable,” James added.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo was one of the many institutions sued in the wave of litigation that greeted the passage of New York’s Child Victims Act, which allowed survivors to bring claims that otherwise would have been barred under the statute of limitations. The Diocese of Rochester tried to resolve such claims through a bankruptcy settlement.

Attorney General James filed her lawsuit nearly two years ago in November 2020, against the Diocese of Buffalo, Bishop Emeritus Richard J. Malone, and former Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz. The lawsuit accused the church of turning a blind eye to credibly accused priests, in alleged defiance of the procedures and protections outlined in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2002.

Instead of referring more than two dozen accused priests for adjudication, the attorney general’s investigation found, the diocese shielded them from the public eye by falsely claiming medical leaves or voluntary retirements.

The diocese’s obligations under the settlement are itemized in a 31-page stipulated final order, with more than 60 pages of exhibits.

“If the Bishop determines that a referral to the [Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith] is warranted because an individual Complaint has been substantiated, the Bishop shall apply precautionary measures to ensure that the public will be protected from abuse pending review by the DDF or the outcome of any subsequent canonical trial,” the order signed by U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams states.

Under the order, the auditor must have access to “all documents, communications, information and to all persons” necessary to fulfill the mission.

“The Auditor shall have the right to request any additional evidence from the Diocese, and to speak with the Diocese and any of its personnel, as the Auditor, in its professional judgment, deems necessary to fulfill the Auditor’s role under this Stipulated Final Order,” according to the document. (The judge is the sister of Law&Crime founder Dan Abrams.)

Not everyone is pleased with the settlement. SNAP, an advocacy group for survivors of abuse by priests, expressed being “disappointed in the lack of results” that it represents.

“In practical terms, the settlement adds a new staffer to the hierarchy in Buffalo, a Child Protection Policy Coordinator,” SNAP’s statement reads. “We are concerned that the person appointed to this role is someone who already works within the Diocese itself and would have greatly preferred to see a truly independent, non-church-related individual take over this office. Similarly, two previous bishops have been prevented from serving in roles with fiduciary responsibility, but, as pointed out by Catholic officials themselves, are not barred from serving in ministerial or pastoral roles. For two men who were accused of covering up decades of sex crimes against children, such a ‘punishment’ does not even qualify as a slap on the wrist.”

The Diocese did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

[Image via AARON LYNETT/AFP via Getty Images]

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."