Diocese says child sex abuse claim against Ellicottville priest is credible

By Tom Dinki
Olean Times Herald
March 23, 2019

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has substantiated an allegation of child sexual abuse against a suspended Ellicottville priest.

The diocese announced Thursday the Rev. Ronald Mierzwa, pastor of Holy Name of Mary Church in Ellicottville, will remain on leave while the results of its investigation are reviewed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican in Rome, which will make the final determination.

The diocese said Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone determined the claim against Mierzwa was credible after considering the advice of the Independent Diocesan Review Board, which met Wednesday and reviewed the reports of Scott F. Riordan and Steven L. Halter.

Mierzwa, who was ordained in 1976 and had been pastor of Holy Name of Mary since 1994, was placed on administrative leave in September for what the diocese then called an allegation of abuse.

While the diocese has not provided any details on the child sex abuse allegation, Meirzwa’s suspension came just two weeks after WKBW-TV reported Sept. 12 that a woman accused him more than 15 years ago of making her sons “parade around in their underwear.”

WKBW did not name Mierzwa in that original report about the allegation, but the news station reports Mierzwa turned himself in to Malone a few days later, leading to his suspension.

However, the diocese appears to have known about the allegation against Mierzwa since 2002.

The diocese in March 2018 considered including Mierzwa on its list of 42 credibly accused priests, but ultimately did not list him, according to church documents obtained by WKBW. Diocese officials wrote that Mierzwa was “still functioning as a pastor … and so should not be on list,” the news station reported.

The diocese has said the list is only meant to include priests who were removed from ministry, retired or left ministry after allegations they sexually abused a minor.

Thursday’s announcement about Mierzwa also came with the news the diocese has cleared two other accused priests.

The diocese said the Rev. John J. Sardina and the Rev. Robert A. Stolinski have returned to active ministry after child sex abuse allegations against them were not substantiated. Sardina and Stolinski are already retired from running parishes.

Of the 19 priests suspended in 2018, the diocese has now determined six to be credibly accused and reinstated another six after clearing them of wrongdoing.

The determinations are just the latest in the diocese’s clergy sex abuse scandal that has seen the diocese identify 80 priests as being credibly accused of child sex abuse.

The scandal started in February 2018 after a former Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels priest and Archbishop Walsh High School teacher, the Rev. Norbert Orsolits, told The Buffalo News he sexually abused “probably dozens” of teenage boys during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

His admission came just hours after Michael Whalen held a press conference outside the diocese’s headquarters in downtown Buffalo and accused Orsolits of abusing him as a teenager.

Malone has refused widespread calls for him to resign amid criticism of his handling of clergy allegations, which was the subject of an October episode of CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Buffalo subpoenaed the diocese in October for a probe focused on the alleged trafficking of minors across state lines, while the New York State Attorney General’s Office is leading a statewide investigation into clergy abuse, with a particular focus on the Buffalo diocese.

As for Mierzwa and Holy Name of Mary, the Rev. Timothy Koester has served in his place as temporary administrator since December. The parish’s website lists both their names on its staff directory, although it notes Mierzwa is on administrative leave.




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