Probers Seek Recent Incidents Involving 2 Priests

By Lou Michel
Buffalo News
December 27, 1993

Niagara County law enforcement officials say they will continue investigating the two Catholic priests who allegedly participated in acts of sodomy with adolescent boys some 15 to 20 years ago.

Three Buffalo residents, independently of each other, approached Niagara County officials, saying the two priests had sexually abused them in a house in East Aurora when they were children.

Now the Niagara County Child Abuse Strike Force is trying to determine if there have been any more-recent incidents involving the two priests.

During a Dec. 17 interview with strike force members, the Rev. John R. Aurelio, 56, admitted that he and the Rev. Bernard M. Mach, 55, had participated in acts of sodomy 15 to 20 years ago with the three young Buffalo boys they had invited to the house the priests once shared in East Aurora.

"The public may think because three men have come forward that that is enough, but we do need to hear from others, especially anyone with incidents from the last five years," said Detective Carla J. Benedict, a member of the strike force.

The statute of limitations for most felony charges is five years. This is why law enforcement officials are interested in investigating more recent complaints, if there are any, Detective Benedict said.

The three men who have come forward did so after reports in the media about an unidentified Lockport couple filing a civil suit against the Buffalo Catholic Diocese alleging that Father Mach sexually abused their son two years ago in the rectory of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Lockport. Father Mach denies their allegations, and a Niagara County grand jury did not find sufficient evidence for an indictment.

"We want to reassure those who come forward that their identities will be kept secret. That is a big reason men do not come forward. Women will talk, but men will take these things with them to their graves," Detective Benedict said. "This is a golden opportunity to come forward, but not an invitation to crackpots."

State law, she pointed out, prevents investigators from making public the identities of victims in crimes of a sexual nature.

The detective said that if alleged incidents involve children, the strike force allows parents the option of being present during interviews.

"Parents are allowed to be present at the interviews if they (children) are uncomfortable, but we try to build a rapport of trust so that we can interview the child alone," Detective Benedict said.

The Lockport boy, who now is 14 years old, was interviewed by the child abuse strike force on different occasions without his parents present, according to Detective Benedict. However, the parents refused to let representatives of the diocese interview their son alone.

A diocesan investigation conducted last spring found no evidence to substantiate the claim against Father Mach, pastor of St. Mary's Church. A

Niagara County grand jury that reviewed the case in October decided against indicting the priest because of a lack of evidence.

On Dec. 8, the family filed a $ 2.9 million civil lawsuit against Father Mach and the diocese in State Supreme Court in Erie County, continuing to allege that the sexual abuse took place.

Jennifer A. Coleman, the attorney representing the family, said the parents decided not to permit their son, who is now 14, to be interviewed in the diocesan investigation, partly because a diocesan official had told them Father Mach already had been interviewed and his denial of the allegations appeared credible.

"The process did not appear evenhanded, but the parents would have allowed the child to be interviewed if they could have been present," Ms. Coleman said.

She suggested that the diocese work out an agreement with "an outside professional" who would be designated to conduct interviews of alleged perpetrators and alleged victims in such cases.

Terrence M. Connors, attorney for the diocese, said the diocese sometimes brings in a third party. Connors said the diocese wanted a third party present for an interview with the Lockport boy.

"Her (Ms. Coleman's) rendition of what transpired is inaccurate. The diocese requested to interview the young man in the presence of a third party acceptable to all," Connors said. "The parents proposed the Rev. John O'Shea, and the diocese agreed. However, the family declined to produce the young man for an interview and presented the matter to the grand jury."

The diocese now is conducting an investigation into the new allegations against Father Aurelio, the spiritual director of Christ the King Seminary for the diocese, and Father Mach and plans to try to interview the three men, according to the Rev. Robert E. Zapfel, vice chancellor of the diocese.

Father Aurelio and Father Mach have been placed on leaves of absence.


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