Allegations against Former Area Priest ‘not Substantiated,’ Diocese Says, As Alleged Victim’s Attorneys Protest
By Matt Surtel and Mallory Diefenbach
July 3, 2018
A former Batavia priest has returned to active ministry after sexual abuse allegations against him were found to be “not substantiated.”
Rev. Dennis G. Riter was placed on administrative leave in March. He returned to his duties at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Dunkirk this past weekend.
The complaints against Riter had been investigated by former Erie County assistant district attorney Scott F. Riordan on behalf of the Buffalo Diocese. Riordan was assistant chief of the Sexual Assault Bureau in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office and is currently a village justice in Kenmore.
Riter was pastor from 2002 to 2009 at the former St. Mary’s Church in Batavia.
Allegations were made against Riter this past spring by two former altar boys and their families at a Buffalo-area church. They did not include Batavia.
The allegations were detailed in a news release issued Monday afternoon by Jeff Anderson and Associates, the firm representing Matthew Golden, one of the two altar boys who accused Riter of molesting him as a child.
In addition to the reports of two sexual abuse survivors, Golden and Nick Caetano, a May 1992 letter from a then-seminarian in the diocese to Bishop Edward D. Head and Bishop Edward Grosz, was uncovered by press reports and details the alleged abuse of another boy at Queen of All Saints in Lackawanna. The 1992 letter from a student at Christ the King Seminary detailed a father’s frantic search for his young son who had gone missing.
“The seminarian helped the father look for his son and upon arriving at the rectory of Queen of All Saints, the child emerged from the rectory office where he had been with Fr. Riter. As the father took the boy’s hand to leave the rectory, the father exploded and stuck his hand in the face of the seminarian and asked the seminarian what the substance on his hand was,” the press release detailed. “The same substance was found on the boy’s shirt, face and in his hair. The seminarian was ‘shocked’ and realized the child had ‘mature male body fluid’ on him.
His return to active duty sparked a demonstration across the street from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton by Robert M. Hoatson, a former priest who runs an organization which works with victim of clergy sexual abuse, according to The Buffalo News.
Mike Reck and Jeff Anderson, who represent Golden are demanding Bishop Richard J. Malone and the diocese provide a transparent and open explanation on why Riter returned to the ministry.
“In the 35-plus years I have been working with survivors, I have repeatedly seen the callous and shocking conduct of the Catholic bishops and I am shocked beyond words by this decision,” Anderson said. “This conduct is outrageous, reckless, hazardous, and dangerous and it poses a real and continuing threat to the safety of the children in the Diocese of Buffalo and in the Dunkirk community.”
“I am concerned for the safety and well-being of the children who will be exposed to Fr. Riter now that he has returned to ministry,” said Golden in the press release. “Who knows what will go on there, moving forward? I am mind blown at the evidence that was presented and the decision that was made by the Bishop and the Review Board, to allow Fr. Riter to return to ministry.”
“We knew some people would question this decision, but that’s not a reason to keep someone out of ministry when a former assistant district attorney’s investigation and a review by the Diocesan Review Board both determined the case to be unsubstantiated,” said George Richert, the diocese’s director of communications, when contacted earlier on Monday.
Riter, in his Batavia posting, had replaced Rev. Donald Becker, who abruptly left church in 2002 because of what was described as a medical leave of absence. Becker was later included on a list released by the dioceses naming priests accused of abusing children sexually.
Becker, who now lives in Florida and has Parkinson’s Disease, has denied the allegations.
Although the allegations against Riter were found not substantiated, those against three other priests remain in place.
“Allegations against Rev. Samuel J. Venne, Rev. Arthur J. Smith and Rev. Dennis A. Fronczak have been substantiated and they will remain on administrative leave while the results of the Diocesan investigation are reviewed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, who will make the final determination,” the diocese said in a news release.
Four retired priests have additionally been placed on administrative leave pending the completion of a preliminary hearing after an abuse complaint against each of them.
They include: Rev. Pascal D. Ipolito, Rev. Daniel J. Palys, Rev. Roy Herberger, and Rev. Robert A.Stolinski.
“Please note that this administrative leave is for the purpose of investigation and does not imply that any determination has been made as to the truth or falsity of the complaint,” the diocese said.
Those with abuse complaints are asked to call contact Victim Assistance Coordinator Jackie Joy of the Buffalo Diocese at (716) 895-3010.