Priest, accused of abuse, served in Falls and Lockport

By Rick Pfeiffer And Philip Gambini
Union-Sun and Journal
April 8, 2018

By the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo's own admission, the parish of Sacred Heart in Niagara Falls was a troubled place in the the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The parish was home to a pair or priests who the diocese now admits were subjects of "credible allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors." 

In the case of Father Michael R. Freeman, at least one of his victims has come forward. Paul Barr has publicly spoken out about his encounter with Freeman in the parish rectory in 1980. 

While Barr tried to speak out about his abuse at the time it occurred, confronted by a mother who blamed him and not the priest, he simply kept what had happened a secret.

"I let it go. I didn't tell anybody about," Barr said. 

Freeman was moved from the Sacred Heart parish a short time later, transferred to one in Lancaster. He was replaced by Father Bernard M, Mach. 

Mach, who was ordained in 1964, moved through a large number of parishes in a priestly career that spanned almost three decades. He began at St. Mary's parish in East Arcade, moving next to Holy Cross parish in Buffalo, then St. Vincent DePaul in North Evans, back to St. Gerard's in Buffalo, on to St. John Vianney in Orchard Park before landing at Sacred heart in Niagara Falls.

Barr remembers Mach's arrival at Sacred Heart. 

"Fortunately for me, Mach never bothered me," Barr said. 

Barr even broke his silence about his abuse at the hands of Freeman, confessing what had happened to Mach and another man, associated with the church, Rami Gonzales. Mach did nothing, according to Barr, but Gonzales took him to the seat of the diocese, in Buffalo, to make a report. 

"I can't remember exactly when I reported it. It was probably within the next three or four years (after the incident in 1980)," Barr said. "I reported it to a nun and she thanked me. And I never heard another thing about it."

Father moved on again, from Sacred Heart to Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Buffalo. But he returned to Niagara County again, this time with an assignment to St Mary's parish in Lockport.

By 1991, allegations of sexual abuse by Mach had surfaced in Lockport. 

The priest was the subject to both a criminal investigation and a civil lawsuit, accusing him of sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy during an overnight stay at the St. Mary's Church rectory. 

The criminal case was ultimately presented to a Niagara County grand jury. But the grand jury issued a "no bill" and the case was closed. The victim's family then filed a $2.9 million lawsuit against Mach and the diocese of Buffalo.

Mach's attorney at the time, the late Daniel Roach, proclaimed his client's innocence.

"I think (Father Mach) is confident that when his case is heard, in court by a judge and jury, he will be exonerated, just as he was by the Niagara County grand jury" Roach said. 

Roach also claimed that a "diocesan investigation group" had found no evidence of sexual abuse by Mach.

The civil complaint against Mach was graphic. It alleged that the priest had invited the young boy to stay at the rectory one night to look after his dogs. 

After falling asleep on a couch, the victim said he was awakened by Mach, who asked the boy if wanted to sleep in the priest's bed. Once in the priest's bedroom, the victim said Mach showed him pornographic movies and fondled him.

After the incident, the victim said Mach told him, "God forgives us for all our sins." 

While Mach also reportedly told the victim that what had happened was "normal", he also urged the boy not to tell anyone because it "could ruin" his reputation as a priest. 

The victim's family claimed at the time that then Bishop of Buffalo Edward Head "knew or should have known" about Mach's behavior. 

Members of a law enforcement child sex abuse task force said when they spoke with the victim they found him "believable." But they also said they could find no other victims.

His inclusion of the diocese's list of priests alleged to have committed sexual abuse means church officials received at least two credible reports of abuse.

Bishop head removed Mach from the Lockport parish in 1993 and placed him on a "leave of absence", a term commonly used by the church in the removal of sexually abuse priests. 

Mach is reported to have left Western New York and moved to Florida, where he died in 2004. 

Records on a resolution of the civil lawsuit against Mach have not been found.



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