FEDERAL GRAND JURY EMPANELED IN BUFFALO DIOCESE
According to the Church Militant, in the wake of the Pennsylvania grand jury’s report on clerical sex abuse in the state’s Catholic dioceses, law enforcement agencies in other states are investigating what the bishops knew, when they knew it and if they instigated illegal cover-ups of criminal sexual activity. The most recently announced federal grand jury was empaneled to examine possible racketeering charges against the Buffalo, New York diocese and Bp. Richard J. Malone.
The Pennsylvania grand jury report released last August included such disturbing findings as more than 300 priests accused of abusing an estimated 1,000 children over the course of seven decades. Fallout from the bombshell report included, among other things, Cdl. Donald Wuerl’s resignation, exposed as protecting predator priests during his time as bishop of Pittsburgh.
The grand jury in New York will investigate the diocese of Buffalo’s alleged cover-ups of criminal sexual wrongdoing.
The jury was confirmed by Buffalo News reporter Jay Tokasz on April 5 after it was discovered federal grand jury subpoenas were issued in March to two retired judges charged with administering the diocese of Buffalo’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. The two individuals were identified in the article as former state Surrogate Court Judge Barbara Howe and former Appellate Division Justice Jerome C. Gorski.
The subpoenas issued to Howe and Gorski follow two previous federal subpoenas issued to the Buffalo diocese last summer and fall. Tokasz’s article continues:
The federal probe is ongoing at the same time the state Attorney General’s Office is conducting a civil investigation of how eight Catholic dioceses in New York handled sex abuse complaints. Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone has publicly identified 80 priests who have been credibly accused of molesting minors while resisting demands that he resign. …
Federal investigators already have interviewed several people who’ve accused priests of abuse and potential witnesses in building a case. It’s not clear what they were hoping to find with the latest subpoena or what impact it will have on their probe.
WKBW investigative reporter Charlie Specht interviewed attorney Barry Covert for an article also published on April 5. Covert represents a client whose files are subject to the subpoena. According to Specht, Covert claimed:
[T]he subpoenas are different than the first two rounds issued by federal investigators because they are the first confirmation of a federal grand jury investigating clergy abuse cover-up in Western New York.
“It’s very significant because that means they have taken this investigation to the next level,” said Covert. “Now we know that there is a federal grand jury that is specifically tasked with looking at these claims, these allegations.”
Specht asserts a federal grand jury could be preparing a RICO case against Bp. Malone, the diocese of Buffalo and the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. RICO refers to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, which in the past has been instrumental in the prosecution and conviction of organized crime kingpins.
Covert said, “We think that they could be looking at RICO. The obstruction of justice, which is a predicate act. Moving priests around. Did they destroy any records? Did they withhold any records? Were there any incorrect, untruthful communications to law enforcement? And fraud is also a predicate act.”
Specht adds, “While many of the priest sexual abuse cases in the Diocese of Buffalo are too old to be prosecuted criminally, a racketeering investigation could focus more on a wider conspiracy involving church higher-ups, their lawyers and others involved in concealing the abuse.”
Church Militant reported in late February that more than 300 members of the diocese of Buffalo and local politicians signed a petition seeking to prevent Bp. Malone from participating in the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. This followed an October broadcast of an episode of the CBS’ 60 Minutes, which featured an interview with Bp. Malone’s former executive assistant Siobhan O’Connor.
O’Connor uncovered a cache of documents that revealed, according to a Church Militant report this past October, Bp. Malone had:
- Returned Fr. Art Smith to active ministry despite credible allegations of sex abuse
- Allowed Fr. Robert Yetter to remain a pastor despite multiple allegations of homosexual predation
- Grossly underreported the number of priests credibly accused of sex abuse
The diocese of Buffalo initially reported that there were only 42 credible cases of priestly sexual abuse, although the documents reveal Bp. Malone knew about but did not reveal another 64 likely perpetrators of priestly sexual crimes.
“Sadly, the institutional cover-ups continue,” said nationally recognized sex abuse attorney Jeff Herman. “Tougher laws are needed to help empower victims, expose these predator priests and their enablers, and deter future crimes against children,” said Jeff.