Sept. 6, 2019
By Dan Herbeck and Jay Tokasz
When he served at St. Amelia Church in the Town of Tonawanda, the Rev. Ryszard S. Biernat would sometimes stun parish members with his deeply emotional sermons.
The earnest young priest used to talk about growing up in Poland, where he said he hung around with the wrong people and got into serious trouble as a teenager. He talked about his battles with depression and self-destructive thoughts, and how his faith in Jesus Christ turned his life around.
“He was so open about his darkest fears and feelings. He would share things you’d never expect from any priest,” recalled Jeanne Phillips, a longtime parishioner and choir member at the Town of Tonawanda church. “It was surprising.”
Last year, Biernat surprised people again while preaching a sermon at another Town of Tonawanda church, when he spoke about a priest who had sexually abused him years earlier, when he was a seminary student.
Earlier this week came the biggest surprise of all: Biernat revealed to a local television reporter that he had been secretly tape-recording conversations with his boss, Bishop Richard J. Malone. The recordings were made while Biernat was serving as the bishop’s priest secretary, his closest aide. Serving in that role for six years, he spent more time with the bishop than any other person in the Diocese of Buffalo.
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