Buffalo News [Buffalo NY]
March 29, 2022
By Jay Tokasz
A claim of “unpermitted sexual contact” by the Rev. Robert M. Yetter in a lawsuit filed last week is the most recent alleged incident of abuse by a diocese priest among several hundred cases that have become public through court filings since 2018.
The vast bulk of accusations against Buffalo area priests involve abuses alleged to have happened at least 30 years ago, and diocese leaders say data shows safeguards tightly curbed abuses since they were put in place in 2002. The News found just one other public allegation of child sex abuse against a priest after 2005.
Victims advocates, however, maintain that the diocese has a spotty record on transparency and victims often don’t report abuse until years later, so it’s difficult to know yet whether the diocese was protecting children better.
The defendant in the new Child Victims Act lawsuit is St. Mary Church in Swormville, where the plaintiff went to Mass and Yetter was pastor for many years. The diocese, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, is not a defendant.
Attorneys Jeff Anderson and Steve Boyd filed the lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Erie County on behalf of plaintiff AB 742, a 20-year-old New York State resident who claimed Yetter started molesting him in 2015 when he was 13 and continued into 2017, just a year before the diocese’s cover up of abuse cases from decades ago began unraveling.
If Yetter were still alive, the new allegations would have fallen within the criminal statute of limitations for child sex abuse crimes to be charged and prosecuted.
Yetter also is accused in two Child Victims Act lawsuits filed last August. Yetter died July 5 at age 73.
Yetter resigned from St. Mary parish in 2018, after being accused of making unwanted sexual advances on two young men.
The lawsuits last August were filed just prior to the closing of a two-year window that allowed civil child sex abuse cases to proceed in court despite being outside the statute of limitations.
One of the cases dates to 1970, when Yetter was a seminarian assigned to St. Mary of the Lake Church in Hamburg. The plaintiff in that case was 13 to 15 years old at the time of the alleged abuse.
The most recent case is within the new statute of limitations, established by the 2019 Child Victims Act, as the plaintiff is under age 55.
Attorney Steve Boyd, who also represents the plaintiff in the case involving Yetter from 1970, said the diocese “had every reason to know that Yetter was abuser” and yet failed to remove him from the priesthood even after the Catholic Church adopted its zero-tolerance policy in 2002.
“They didn’t take care of the problem,” he said. “If they had followed the policies they had put in place in the early 2000s, my latest client would not have been abused, because the abuse came more than 10 years after those policies went into effect,” said Boyd.
It’s unclear how the diocese’s bankruptcy proceeding will impact the latest lawsuit. The plaintiff might be allowed to file a late proof of claim in federal bankruptcy court or proceed in state court against the parish.
Diocese spokesman Greg Tucker said the diocese notified the Erie County District Attorney’s Office about the new allegation against Yetter, but it is not investigating it because Yetter is deceased.
Tucker said the plaintiff’s attorneys have not indicated whether their client will cooperate in a diocese investigation of his claim.