Accused bishop’s funeral Mass participation provokes outcry from abuse victims

Buffalo News [Buffalo NY]

March 12, 2022

By Jay Tokasz

Retired Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz kept a low profile in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo since being accused last summer of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 1990.

At least that was the case until Monday, when Grosz was on the altar for the funeral of Bishop Emeritus Donald W. Trautman in St. Peter Cathedral in Erie, Pa.

Grosz’s participation in the funeral Mass alongside several other bishops has sparked outrage on social media among survivors of clergy sexual abuse who thought the church had suspended him from public ministry while it investigated the abuse claim.

“I find it extremely offensive,” said Kevin Brun, who along with other abuse victims called the diocese chancery to complain about it. “You would think out of an abundance of caution they would refrain from allowing Bishop Grosz to be on the altar.”

Grosz, who retired in 2020, has not been suspended from public ministry or formally relieved of his priestly faculties. He voluntarily has kept himself out of the public spotlight since being accused in a lawsuit last July of forcibly touching a boy while taking photographs following a confirmation service in Genesee County in 1990.

Trautman, a Buffalo priest, worked as a high-ranking administrator in the Buffalo Diocese prior to being elevated to Erie Diocese bishop in 1990. He was Grosz’s immediate predecessor as auxiliary bishop in Buffalo, and the two maintained a close friendship during their many years as colleague bishops.

Attorney Dennis Vacco described Grosz’s participation in the funeral Mass as a unique circumstance.

“Should he be criticized if it was a family member for concelebrating a funeral Mass? I would say Bishop Trautman in his life was pretty close to him, as close as a family member,” said Vacco, who represents Grosz in the state Attorney General’s Office lawsuit against the Buffalo Diocese and its retired bishops over an alleged coverup of clergy abuse cases.

Grosz, 77, will continue to stay away from public ministry, even though he adamantly denies the abuse claim, said Vacco.

Buffalo Diocese Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz was publicly accused for the first time of molesting a child in a Child Victims Act lawsuit a Genesee County man filed July 12, 2021.  John Hickey / News file photo
Buffalo Diocese Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz was publicly accused for the first time of molesting a child in a Child Victims Act lawsuit a Genesee County man filed July 12, 2021. John Hickey / News file photo

The allegation triggered a Vatican process known as Vos Estis Lux Mundi whereby bishops can be investigated. Under terms outlined by Pope Francis, metropolitan archbishops are responsible for such investigations and in Grosz’s case, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York is the metropolitan archbishop for all dioceses in New York State, including Buffalo.

Under church law, while bishops can remove priests from public ministry, they can’t remove another bishop, so current Buffalo Diocese Bishop Michael W. Fisher had no authority to ban Grosz from taking the altar at the funeral Mass.

Dolan referred the case to the Vatican, but “that process in the case of Bishop Grosz has not yet commenced due to ongoing issues related to the Diocese of Buffalo’s Chapter 11 status,” said diocese spokesman Gregory Tucker.

The church typically waits for any civil processes to play out before pressing ahead with its canon law procedures.

Vacco said Grosz has no forum in which he can defend himself against the abuse claim, because the Child Victims Act case alleging the abuse doesn’t name him as a defendant.

“He can’t vigorously defend through the litigation and assert his position that the claims are flat-out false, because he’s not a party to it,” said Vacco. “On the other hand, the internal canon law process has not yet been determined, how the investigation will unfold.”

Trautman’s funeral Mass on Monday was open to clergy and invited guests only, but many abuse survivors quickly became aware that Grosz had participated in the liturgy from the altar.

Kevin Koscielniak, part of the Buffalo Survivors Group, said Grosz’s visible presence on the altar shows that the Buffalo Diocese’s promises of accountability and reform and healing for abuse survivors through the bankruptcy process are “nothing but word candy” and “lip service.”

The Buffalo Diocese has spent the past two years saying they want to do right by abuse victims, added Brun.

Grosz’s appearance at the altar, even if he’s technically not under suspension, “sends the wrong message to survivors” and is another example of the diocese “saying one thing and doing something else,” Brun said.