Accused priest returns to pulpit after diocese finds complaints ‘not substantiated’

Buffalo News

July 1, 2018

By Jay Tokasz

The Rev. Dennis G. Riter, in his first Mass since being suspended from ministry due to a sex abuse complaint, told parishioners he was happy to be back in the pulpit and acknowledged that “it’s been a long three months.”

“I am so very, very happy to be with you today,” Riter said during the Saturday evening Mass in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Dunkirk. “I certainly felt your prayers and your support over the past three months.”

Riter didn’t specifically address the abuse claim, reported to the Diocese of Buffalo in March, that resulted in his suspension. Another priest sent to the church by Bishop Richard J. Malone told parishioners just prior to the start of the Mass that an investigation had determined the complaints against Riter “were not substantiated.”

Outside the church, on a sidewalk across Washington Street, a former priest who advocates on behalf of victims criticized the bishop’s move to return Riter to ministry as reckless. Robert M. Hoatson, who runs a nonprofit organization that works with victims of clergy sex abuse, held signs that read “Shame on Malone” and “Remove Riter.”

“We knew some people would question this decision, but that’s not a reason to keep someone out of ministry,” said George Richert, diocesan spokesman.

The diocese hired Scott Riordan, a former assistant district attorney, to investigate. Riordan then met multiple times with a diocesan review board, which gave a recommendation to Malone.

“The bishop accepted the report of investigator Riordan and the recommendation of the diocesan review board, and as a result Father Riter has been returned to active ministry here at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton,” said the Rev. Mark Noonan, who is vicar general for the diocese.

Matt Golden, the man who made the complaint against Riter, continues to allege that the priest abused him on multiple occasions in the late 1990s inside the rectory of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in South Buffalo, according to Michael Reck, Golden’s attorney. Golden was between the ages of 10 and 13 at the time, said Reck.

Riordan interviewed Golden, who described his own abuse and witnessing the abuse of another boy who was a childhood friend and is now deceased, said Reck.

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