How does a priest get reinstated with three allegations of sexual abuse and a failed polygraph?
Critics describe the investigative report of sexual abuse allegations against The Rev. Dennis Riter as a biased, twisted sham not worth the paper it is printed on.
Scott Riordan, a former sex crimes prosecutor contracted by the diocese to investigate allegations, told News 4 Investigates in an exclusive television interview that he began this case with the same open mind that he had for the other 12 complaints assigned to him.
His goal, he said, was to find the truth. And contrary to what some critics believe, Riordan said he did bring an independent eye to the cases he investigated for the diocese.
“This isn’t simply me going along with the church and saying what they want,” said Riordan, who also is a defense attorney and village justice.
“In fact, in most of the cases that I’ve investigated, the reports have been found to be substantiated or credible.”
Riter, a priest in Dunkirk, was accused last year of sexually abusing three boys in the 1990s.
The diocese, which is still working through a sexual abuse scandal that involves more than 100 accused priests, placed Riter on administrative leave for three months while Riordan interviewed multiple people, including two accusers who are still alive.
In the end, Riordan concluded there was no merit to a complaint filed by Matthew Golden. He described a second allegation as a fabrication, and he was not asked by the diocese to investigate the third allegation, which was revealed by Golden, because the alleged victim is dead and never filed a complaint.
Riordan’s interview reveals the difficult task he had of piecing together, with little evidence, details of events that purportedly occurred decades ago, and how inconsistencies discovered during his investigations can play a huge role in his conclusions.
His final reports, which are supposed to be secret, hold significant weight with the diocesan Review Board, a panel of Catholic laypeople that advises the bishop on sexual abuse cases.
“I know that my recommendation is going to carry a lot of weight,” Riordan said.
“I don’t want to get it wrong because of the consequences to both. I don’t want someone who is wrongfully accused to be laicized and I don’t want someone who is rightfully accused to be put back in active ministry.”
Mike Reck, the attorney for Golden, said the diocese got this one wrong.
“I don’t think Mr. Riordan’s done anything inappropriate,” Reck said.
“I think that the investigation, which was controlled by the diocese, is premature and is inappropriate.”
Malone reinstated Riter over a year ago, but the case continues to attract controversy and criticism, more so now that Riordan’s investigative report was leaked to the media. Fueling the criticism are the details that Riter faced three sexual abuse allegations and had failed polygraph test.
“It smacks of a coverup, it smacks of danger,” Reck said.
Riter, in an exclusive interview with News 4 Investigates, said he realizes the failed polygraph casts doubt.Father Dennis Riter faced three allegations of sexual abuse, but the bishop reinstated him.
But he denies that he sexually abused anyone.
“This is a strong test,” Riter said.
“Is God with me or not? Is God faithful? I’ve staked my life on the person who is Jesus. I can’t cop out now, I’ve got to hang in there.”
By the time Bishop Richard Malone placed Riter on administrative leave on March 26, 2018, the sexual abuse scandal had already engulfed his administration.
Six days earlier, Malone released the names of 42 priests accused of abusing a minor, but Riter was not on that list. Since then, the diocese has released the names of dozens of additional priests, and more names are expected to be released this year, church officials said.
One complaint against Riter came by email from Matthew Golden, a former altar boy who said the priest had abused him at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help rectory in Buffalo.
Golden began serving as an altar boy at age 6.
Around 1995, Riter was assigned to the same church.
Golden declined interview requests, but News 4 Investigates obtained a copy of his complaint and his interview report with the investigator. The following details come from those documents.
Golden wrote that Riter started off by patting him on the back or placing his hand on his shoulder.
He said that after mass he’d count the collections with Riter down a short flight of stairs to what Golden described as the rectory living room in 1996, where they’d watch tv or play Nintendo.
Riter would turn up the heat, Golden said, and ask if he’d like to get more comfortable. They’d take off their clothes.
“Then his pats on the back turned into touching of our private sections sometimes performing oral sex,” Golden wrote in his complaint.
“It was an awful part of my life that I wanted to forget. I was only 8 years old who grew up thinking that priest (sic) were like my parents, and to listen to them.”
Golden first told his aunt about the abuse in 2007 over chicken wings at the Swammie House in Buffalo, and later his wife and members of his immediately family.
His aunt, who also declined an interview, took notes of their meeting, of which News 4 Investigates obtained a copy.
At that time, Golden also revealed that his best friend, Nick Caetano, was abused by Riter. Caetano died in 2009 and had never, himself, filed a complaint to the diocese.
Three weeks after Golden filed his complaint, he called the victim witness coordinator to revise it with a complaint for compensation through his attorney.
In the revised complaint, Golden said the abuse occurred between the ages of 10 and 13.
Investigator finds inconsistencies
Riordan said the first thing he noticed was Golden’s revision of the abuse timeline.
If the abuse started when Golden was 8 years old, that would place Riter at a different church, making it unlikely he was the abuser.
“And at that point, that wasn’t significant, but it was just the start, it was the tip of the iceberg so to speak,” Riordan said.
“The different things that I found that weren’t adding up. If that was the only thing, then that wouldn’t have been a significant detail.”
Riordan reviewed the notes that Golden’s aunt took in 2007, which state, “Matt 10 yrs old” and Riordan said Golden’s aunt confirmed the notes are accurate.
“For this reason, it does not make sense that he would then file a complaint almost eleven years later stating that he was eight years old when the abuse happened,” Riordan said.Scott Riordan, who investigated sexual abuse claims for the diocese
Reck, Golden’s attorney, said his client has consistently told him that the abuse began at age 10.
“Ten-year-old boys do not have calendars,” Reck said. “They can’t go back and look at it.”
Another inconsistency is how Golden described a rectory living room where he said the abuse happened.
Riordan interviewed two longtime parishioners who were familiar with the layout of the rectory in the 1990s. They both told Riordan that there was never a living room down in the rectory and they did not recall a television or Nintendo.
In addition, both parishioners told Riordan that it would be unlikely that a child would count collections.
In fact, Melinda Lyon, who Riordan interviewed, said she, herself, was the person who counted collections in the 1990s.
“No, we wouldn’t let a child count the money,” she told Riordan.
Reck said he’s not surprised by the parishioners’ accounts because “these are crimes of secrecy.”
A third inconsistency Riordan reported was how Golden described the abuse in his initial complaint compared with what he said during their April 26, 2018, interview.
Golden’s initial complaint stated that sometimes oral sex was performed, but he told Riordan that there was “only touching.”
Golden told the news program Nightline that he exaggerated the oral sex claim because he thought the diocese would ignore his complaint if he had only mentioned touching.
The fourth inconsistency Riordan reported was the number of times Golden alleges to having been abused.
Golden told Riordan that the abuse happened approximately 20 times. But the notes taken by Golden’s aunt state, “only 3 times.”
Riordan said he asked Golden what he thought the “only 3 times” referenced and he said that was about his best friend, Nick Caetano, not himself.
“I accepted it at first, but then I actually spoke to his aunt and what she told me was that he was referring to how many times it happened to him, and I questioned her on that, and I asked, ‘Are you sure about that?’ and she says ‘if that’s what I wrote then that’s what he told me’,” Riordan said.
Second possible victim
Nick Caetano also was an altar boy and Golden’s best friend.
Golden told Riordan that he witnessed Riter abuse Caetano, but the diocese never officially asked him to investigate this case because Caetano had died and never filed a complaint with the diocese.
Sharon Caetano, his mother, told News 4 Investigates that Riter had abused her son during mass in front of the parishioners by concealing the abuse with their robes.
She said she pried this information from her son when he was 12, but never went to the police because she didn’t think they’d do anything about the complaint. She said she never even told her husband but did tell many of her neighbors.
Sharon Caetano told both Riordan and News 4 Investigates that in 1998 she told Lucille Buzek, a family member who works for the diocese. But Lucille Buzek denied to Riordan that she and Sharon Caetano had ever discussed a sexual abuse complaint.
Riter said he has no idea why Golden would tell the investigator that his best friend also was abused.
“I never abused you, never abused your friend who died. I’m sorry you lost your friend, but I never had anything to do with that,” Riter said.
Another allegation surfaces
The diocesan Review Board reviewed Riordan’s report in a secret meeting in late June 2018.
Riordan concluded that, “I did not find any evidence whatsoever to support the allegations made by Matthew Golden.”
That board advised Bishop Richard Malone that Riter should be returned to ministry, which Malone did on June 28, 2018.
That same week, however, another allegation surfaced.
Wes Walawender, a former seminarian at Christ the King, told News 4 Investigates that in April 1992 he witnessed the aftermath of a 6-year-old boy being abused in the rectory of Queen of All Saints Church in Lackawanna.
News 4 Investigates is not naming the accuser because he did not give permission to use his name and did not want to be interviewed.
Walawender told News 4 that he arrived to the church on morning of April 16, 1992 for a meeting with Riter, his supervisor for two semesters.Wes Walawender says he witnessed the aftermath of a boy being sexually abused by Father Riter in 1992.
At about 11:30 a.m., his friend had arrived for lunch. Walawender said his friend brought his wife and kids.
Walawender said he and his friend drove his vehicle to McDonalds, while the mother and children stayed at church parking lot.
Riordan said the accuser told him that a priest came to the car and asked the children if they wanted ice cream.
The accuser was the only one who said yes. Riordan said the accuser told him that the priest took him into an office, where he forced the boy to perform oral sex on him.
Walawender said he and his friend returned 40 minutes later and found the mother had fallen asleep in the car and one of the boys was missing. Walawender said that he and his friend searched for the boy outside.
Unsuccessful, he walked up several steps in the rectory and called out the boy’s name. Suddenly, the doors to an office open and the boy walks out. Walawender said he saw Riter in the background.
“I was not suspecting anything nefarious at that point,” Walawender said.
Walawender’s friend grabbed the boy and brought him outside. While in the parking lot, Walawender said his friend put his finger to his nose and asked “what’s that smell?” Walawender said the boy had “droplets” of male semen on his hair, face and shirt. He said his friend became enraged and tried to gain access to the rectory, but the doors were locked.
“I take a full smell of it and I am realizing that this is the smell of a male body fluid, there was no question in my mind, no mistaking,” Walawender said
“I was stunned. I wasn’t thinking in terms of abuse at that moment.”
His friend drives off with his wife and the kids and Walawender said he was left in the parking lot in disbelief.
No one called police at that moment. Walawender said his friend and wife told him that they did report the incident to the Lackawanna Police Department the following day.
Walawender said that after much internal debate and speaking with a confessor, he hand-delivered complaints on May 9, 1992, to both Bishop Edward Head, who has since died, and Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz. The letter also was cc’ed to The Rev. Peter Drilling.
He said he did not report the incident immediately because he was a young seminarian on a visa from Poland and feared that “with one strike of the pen” he could have been sent back home.
Walawender, who was never ordained by the Buffalo diocese, gave News 4 Investigates a copy of the letter, which requested an investigation.
Diocesan officials said they never received Walawender’s letter. The diocese was made aware of the allegation by Mitchell Garabedian, the attorney for the accuser, who filed a complaint with the diocese for compensation.
Garabedian told Nightline that this is just more evidence of the church lacking transparency and covering up abuse.
“Why wasn’t the public warned in 1992?” Garabedian said.
Investigator: 1992 complaint a ‘fabrication’
Riordan, however, had a completely different take.
“I found that complaint from the get go to be suspicious,” he said.
“Normally when an adult preys on a child there’s a process of grooming because they don’t know the child. So, that was my first concern.”
“The second concern is that, even assuming for a moment that it happened, the likelihood of a sexual predator allowing a child to walk out covered in evidence was shocking. I just didn’t see that as something that someone would do because the chance of them being caught are significant.”
Riordan said he found several other problems with Walawender’s and the accuser’s stories:
Walawender, whose eyes began to swell with tears, said he understands why some would doubt his story. In hindsight, he said he, himself, should have reported the incident to police.
“I blamed myself that I had not done enough to stop this train in its rail,” Walawender said.
“Because Matthew’s situation would have not happened if I took my papers out, I risk everything, to stop that train. I haven’t done enough.”
Riter told News 4 that he racked his brain to figure out why Walawender and the alleged victim accused him of sexual abuse.
“Wes, I don’t know where this is coming from, I never abused a child, never, never,” Riter said.
To which Walawender responded: “Lie.”
Riordan concluded that the complaint by the accuser and Walawender appeared to be fabricated based on the contradictions and other concerns he raised. And he described Riter as being “consistent with that of someone who has been wrongly accused.”
Meanwhile, Riter is back at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Dunkirk doing mass and communions. He said many have welcomed him back but believes it is going to take a miracle to restore his reputation.
“Because how do you prove that you’re innocent under these circumstances? Unless, somehow, somebody says these charges … I retract the charges, they’re not true, I don’t know how I’d ever restore my reputation,” Riter said.
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