Lawsuit: Buffalo diocese official fast-tracked annulment to cover priest’s abuse

Buffalo News

January 2, 2020

By Jay Tokasz and Barbara O’Brien

An unnamed plaintiff alleged in a lawsuit that a former Buffalo Diocese administrator, who later became bishop of the Erie Diocese, fast-tracked an annulment in the 1980s to make sure that a family kept quiet about a priest’s abuse.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday claimed that the Rev. Donald W. Trautman, during his time as chancellor and vicar general of the Buffalo Diocese, expedited an annulment for a member of the plaintiff’s family “with the hope of ensuring their silence about the abuses perpetrated by Fr. Smyczynski and covering up those abuses.”

Catholic Church doctrine stipulates that divorced Catholics must receive an annulment, or “declaration of nullity,” if they want to remarry and continue to receive Communion, a central practice of the faith. But applying for an annulment was an often intimidating, mysterious and slow church court process.

The plaintiff said the Rev. Gerard A. Smyczynski abused him multiple times when he was a 10-year-old student and altar boy at Infant of Prague Church and school in Cheektowaga in the mid-1980s. The alleged abuse lasted about a year, according to the lawsuit, which was filed by Danielle George of Phillips & Paolicelli law firm in New York City and Paul K. Barr of Fanizzi & Barr in Niagara Falls.

Trautman, 83, was second-in-command of the Buffalo Diocese for several years under Bishop Edward D. Head, until he was installed as bishop of the Erie Diocese in 1990. He retired in 2012.

He did not respond to an email seeking his response to the allegations in the lawsuit.

Trautman told The News last June that he didn’t cover up any sexual abuse when he was chancellor in the Buffalo Diocese.

Trautman also has disputed a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report that criticized him for allowing Erie priests who had been accused of abuse to continue in the priesthood.

The plaintiff still lives in Erie County and is now 45. Smyczynski died in 1999.

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