Diocese clears two priests, including one who died recently, of sex abuse claims

Buffalo News [Buffalo NY]

June 23, 2022

By Jay Tokasz

The Buffalo Diocese said Thursday it has posthumously exonerated the Rev. Robert G. Beiter, who spent the last nine months of his life under a cloud of suspicion due to a sexual abuse allegation.

Beiter was suspended from priestly ministry in 2021 after a claim against him surfaced in confidential documents filed in the diocese’s federal bankruptcy case.

Beiter, a former pastor of St. Patrick Church in Brocton, died June 13 at the age of 83. The diocese said in a prepared statement that a review board determined the accusation was “unsubstantiated,” and Beiter was posthumously reinstated.

The review board also found a claim by the same individual against the Rev. Thomas Wopperer, 84, was not substantiated. The individual declined to cooperate with the review board’s investigation of the claims, according to the diocese statement.

“The truth won out,” Wopperer said in a phone interview with The News.

Wopperer said he was happy and relieved to be cleared and resume his priestly work. He celebrated a public Mass last weekend for the first time since being put on leave along with Beiter last September.

“I wish Father Bob had not passed away and he would have been able to feel the same feelings I have at this point,” said Wopperer.

The past nine months, he added, were “very difficult.”

“You go through depression. You go through a lot of questioning. I’m just happy I can put this behind me and live a normal life again,” he said.

Sister Michele Beiter, a Catholic nun and Beiter’s sister, said her brother was deeply hurt by the allegation.

“He agonized over that. It was awful. Our whole family did,” she said. “He was a very caring, loving man and very faithful to his priesthood.”

She said Beiter and Wopperer were considered guilty until proven innocent and were victims of a “grave injustice.”

The diocese at Beiter’s funeral on Saturday in Lancaster issued decrees signed by Bishop Michael W. Fisher indicating that Beiter and Wopperer had been cleared to return to full priestly ministry.

Sister Michele Beiter said her brother was made aware he was being cleared by the diocese.

“It was just announced publicly, but I had known before my brother died, and I told him right away,” she said. “He was so relieved because he knew he didn’t do anything wrong.”

Ordained in 1964, Beiter served in a variety of parishes and for nine years taught religious studies at Catholic high schools. In 1986, he was named pastor of St. Patrick in Brocton, a post he held until his retirement in 2008.

Wopperer was pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church from 1988 until his retirement in 2008 and was occasionally assisting in several parishes.

He said he is not guilty of the crimes alleged and doesn’t know who made the claims.

“It seems like anybody can make an accusation and that causes grave consequences to the person who is accused. It’s not right,” he said.

Child Victims Act lawsuits filed in state courts have accused 230 priests who served in the Buffalo Diocese of molesting children, with most of the abuses alleged in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

The crush of lawsuits prompted the diocese to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2020.

More than 900 child sex abuse claims were filed in bankruptcy court.