Buffalo Diocese Agrees to Outside Auditor in Sex-Abuse Settlement

Wall Street Journal [New York NY]

October 25, 2022

By Jimmy Vielkind

Roman Catholic diocese failed its most basic duty to guide and protect children, New York Attorney General Letitia James says

An independent auditor will monitor how the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo handles sexual-abuse allegations as part of a settlement filed Tuesday in federal court with New York Attorney General Letitia James.

The diocese, which declared bankruptcy in February of 2020 after a wave of sexual-abuse lawsuits, also agreed to specific time frames for investigating misconduct claims. The auditor, former FBI official Kathleen McChesney, will be in place for five years. The auditor will prepare and publish an annual report on the diocese’s compliance with its procedures regarding abuse claims.

“For far too long, the Buffalo Diocese and its leaders failed their most basic duty to guide and protect our children,” Ms. James, who sued the Buffalo Diocese in November of 2021, said in a statement.

It is the first such arrangement for a Catholic diocese in the state, her office said. Monitors have been appointed in Catholic dioceses in Minneapolis, and Manchester, N.H., according to Terence McKiernan, president of the watchdog BishopAccountability.org.

Buffalo Bishop Michael Fisher, who was appointed in 2021, said many of the provisions of the settlement were already in place. They include a diocesan program to monitor priests accused of abuse.

“The mistakes of the past cannot be repeated,” Bishop Fisher said in an interview. “We never want any—there’s zero tolerance for abuse in the diocese, and that’s an important part of my ministry at this point.”

The lawsuit also named as defendants Bishop Emeritus Richard J. Malone and former Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz, who it accused of using procedural maneuvers for years to shield priests accused of abusing minors from repercussions. Instead of reporting the allegations to law enforcement or church officials, the suit said the bishops classified dozens of accused priests as “unassignable,” permitting them to retire or take medical leave while staying on the diocese’s payroll.

Such steps would violate the Dallas Charter, a document signed in 2002 by Catholic bishops, including Bishops Malone and Grosz. The protocols were designed to prevent coverups of sexual abuse in the church.

Bishop Malone resigned in 2019, following a church investigation into his handling of sexual-abuse claims. Bishop Grosz retired in 2020. The settlement says that both men agreed not to serve as a director, trustee, officer or equivalent fiduciary position with any New York charity.

Dennis Vacco, an attorney for Bishops Malone and Grosz, said the settlement doesn’t include any admission of wrongdoing and doesn’t bar them from pastoral duties. “My clients are both extraordinarily relieved that this matter is over,” Mr. Vacco said.

Write to Jimmy Vielkind at Jimmy.Vielkind@wsj.com