New transcripts reveal Buffalo bishops’ most extensive comments on roles in clergy abuse cover-up

Buffalo News [Buffalo NY]

March 29, 2023

By Jay Tokasz

Bishop Richard J. Malone testified about being shocked and “very concerned” to discover that the Buffalo Diocese hadn’t forwarded credible allegations of clergy sex abuse of minors to the Vatican, per the terms of a 2001 church law.

But when pressed by a state prosecutor in 2019 about when exactly he learned the cases hadn’t been forward and who told him or how he learned about it, Malone struggled to remember.

Newly released transcripts of sworn testimony to the state Attorney General’s Office by Malone and Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz reveal the bishops’ most extensive comments to date about their roles in addressing child sex abuse allegations and handing abusive priests. They also provide a glimpse into the inner workings of the highest levels of the Buffalo Diocese as a scandal over the cover-up reached fever pitch.

Malone, in the testimony, acknowledged that he never discussed with his predecessor bishops why those approximately two dozen cases had not been referred to Rome, and he admitted he didn’t begin a formal process with the Vatican to remove accused priests until 2017, five years into his tenure as bishop of the Buffalo Diocese.

“I don’t ever want to throw any of my predecessors under the bus,” Malone told state prosecutors in 2019. “I was only told once that Bishop Mansell decided to … deal with these priests in a less formal way. In other words, he had them off the job.”

According to the 2001 Vatican document, Malone noted, “that was not adequate.”

Malone, who had retained administrative responsibilities in the Diocese of Portland for nearly a year and half after his appointment in Buffalo, blamed his own delay in reporting accused priests to the Vatican on “trying to juggle two dioceses” and “all kinds of other priorities.” 

The AG’s office recently released copies of transcripts of the 2019 oral testimonies of Malone and Grosz in response to a Freedom of Information Law request from The Buffalo News.

Malone and Grosz were the focus of heavy criticism as revelations about a longstanding diocese cover-up of clergy molestation cases began surfacing in 2018. In a 2020 civil lawsuit by the AG’s office, the two bishops were accused of breaching their fiduciary duties by failing to take proper steps to investigate abuse claims, discipline credibly accused priests and properly monitor priests who had molested children.

Malone testified for about seven hours at the AG’s Buffalo office on Main Street on Dec. 18, 2019, two weeks after he stepped down as 14th bishop of Buffalo and less than three months after the AG’s office subpoenaed diocese internal records and launched an investigation into its handling of clergy abuse cases. Grosz’s testimony happened over two days, Oct. 25 and Nov. 5, 2019.

Both bishops were represented at their separate hearings by attorney Dennis C. Vacco, a former state attorney general. Their testimonies largely corroborated each other’s accounting of their handling abuse allegations and clergy molesters and did not reveal any tension or disagreement between the two bishops.

Grosz, for example, was asked at one point if he had any concerns about how Malone responded to sex abuse allegations. The auxiliary bishop’s answer: “… He has responded very positively, in a very effective way.”

Malone was equally complimentary of Grosz, telling Assistant Attorney General Daniel Roque that he was satisfied with how Grosz had handled the responsibility of responding to sex abuse allegations and couldn’t think of anything Grosz had done that wasn’t satisfactory.

Here are four other takeaways from the transcripts.

1. Many answers from Grosz: ‘I do not know’

The bishops responded several dozen times that they either didn’t know or couldn’t recall, effectively avoiding prosecutors’ efforts to dig deeper into the inner workings of the diocese and how the church dealt with abuser priests.

Grosz, especially, responded to many questions by saying he couldn’t answer with any certainty without referencing his notes about a particular meeting or situation.

Grosz testified that he had voted in 2002 with other U.S. bishops to approve the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which along with new church laws were to guide how dioceses responded to sex abuse allegations. The new church norms included a process by which clergy abuse cases were to be referred to a Vatican office known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for adjudication.

Grosz also testified that he had been the diocese’s “point man” on abuse cases even before Malone’s arrival in Buffalo in 2012.

But when Roque asked Grosz what process the diocese used for accused priests prior to the required referral to the Vatican, the auxiliary bishop replied that he didn’t know.

“Did you know if there was a process in place?” Roque persisted.

“I do not know,” Grosz again replied.

Grosz also responded that he didn’t know whether grooming a child for sexual abuse constituted a violation of the Catholic Church’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People or canon law.

“It’s a serious matter,” Grosz said.

And despite being the diocese’s point man on abuse cases for many years, Grosz acknowledged that he never took any specific training on how to interview sex abuse victims or those accused of abuse, nor has he done any training on ensuring that someone who has abused doesn’t do it again.

He described a lot of what he did as “experiential.”

“Being on the spot and just kind of, as you go along, learning what to do, guided by legal counsel, of course and by the protocol,” he said.

2. Vatican investigation was not discussed

State prosecutors tried to pry for information about a Vatican-ordered investigation of the Buffalo Diocese, called an Apostolic Visitation that was led by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn in October of 2019.

Vacco was having none of it, however.

He directed Grosz in the November testimony not to answer questions about his meeting with DiMarzio, citing attorney-client privilege.

Roque revisited the issue with Malone, rattling off a sequence of questions only to have each of them shot down by Vacco saying the bishop “is not going to answer that question.”

3. Malone on letter of recommendation: ‘Among the most stupid things I have ever done’

Prosecutors spent quite a bit of time asking Malone and Grosz about their handling of the Rev. Arthur J. Smith, a priest who had been removed from a Hamburg parish in December of 2011, prior to Malone’s arrival in Buffalo, amid allegations that he engaged in inappropriate “grooming” conduct online with an eighth-grade student at the parish school.

Smith was replaced by Monsignor James Wall, who according to an email from Kevin A. Keenan, the diocese’s spokesman at the time, was supposed to read a statement at St. Mary of the Lake Masses saying that Smith “will be taking a medical leave.”

The statement mentioned nothing about the alleged grooming of a 14-year-old boy that prompted Smith’s removal.

Keenan asked Wall to refer any media calls to him and he invoked medical privacy protections under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act as a reason that “prevents you from commenting beyond what is contained in the statement.”

“You may have to explain that to people if they press you for further information,” Keenan added in his email, which was among 150 pages of internal diocese documents included as exhibits with the bishops’ testimony.

Despite the grooming incident – and a report from 2004 that Smith had groped a seminarian in a South Buffalo church rectory – Malone appointed Smith to a chaplaincy at a Clarence nursing home.

While there, the priest faced complaints from a nursing home employee and a novice Brother of Mercy about inappropriate remarks and touching.

Malone told prosecutors he placed Smith at the nursing home because the priest had a “good reputation dealing with sick and elderly” and he wanted to “let him do what he was ordained to do.”

“When you look back at it of course in hindsight, I probably should never have given him any ministry again but I didn’t feel I had the grounds canonically or morally to totally restrict him, you know. We thought this would be a good environment for him,” he said.

In 2017, four years after Smith was removed from the nursing home, Malone wrote a “good-standing” letter endorsing the priest for ministry on a cruise ship.

In the 2017 letter, Malone said he knew “nothing which would in any way limit or disqualify” Smith from ship ministry and was “unaware of anything in his background which would render him unsuitable to work with minor children.”

The letters became public in a 2018 WKBW-TV report and added momentum to calls for Malone’s resignation.

In his testimony, the bishop described the signed letters as “among the most stupid things I have ever done, perhaps the most stupid.”

4. Parishioners misled: ‘He needs to take care of his ailing sister’

Grosz admitted to prosecutors that he misled parishioners in 2005 about the real reason the Rev. Thomas L. Kemp could not participate in a Mass for the 50th anniversary of Immaculate Conception parish in East Bethany, where Kemp had been pastor.

Kemp was removed from ministry in 2004 due to multiple complaints of child sex abuse and restricted from celebrating Masses and functioning publicly as a priest.

But when a parishioner called Grosz to complain why Kemp was given a directive not to participate in the anniversary Mass, the auxiliary bishop told the woman that Kemp “needs to take care of his ailing sister,” according to a Grosz memo included in documents handed over by the AG’s office.

Roque questioned Grosz on the subject.

“And you told them he was retired and that he needed to care for his ailing sister?” the prosecutor asked.

“Which is what he told me to say,” replied Grosz.

“In retrospect, do you think that’s misleading?” Roque continued.

To which Grosz responded: “I said what he asked me to say.”