Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York, is refusing to step down in the wake of leaked documents from the chancery that suggest he mishandled allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct by priests he oversees in his diocese.
“My handling of recent claims from some of our parishioners concerning sexual misconduct with adults unquestionably has fallen short of the standard to which you hold us, and to which we hold ourselves,” Bishop Malone told Catholics of his diocese in a statement posted to the diocese’s website on August 26.
In rejecting the calls for his resignation, Malone said, “The shepherd does not desert the flock at a difficult time.”
As Catholic News Agency reports, several of the allegations involve “boundary violations or sexual misconduct against adults,” which are not addressed in the same way as those against children in the 2002 Charter for Protection of Children and Young People published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The report continues:
However the diocese may have failed its obligations under state law. The Erie County District Attorney has indicated that it is a matter of when, not if, he opens a criminal probe with the Attorney General into Bishop Malone and diocesan administrators. DA John Flynn Jr. told local news if administrators covered-up sex abuse, there are a number of potential charges they could face, such as hindering prosecution or child endangerment.
An investigation by 7 Eyewitness News I-Team into hundreds of church documents exposed how some of the allegations had been handled. Malone reportedly said he inherited the problem of sexual abuse within his diocese.
In one case – that of Father Art Smith – the investigation found students at St. Mary of the Lake school in Hamburg referred to the priest as “The Creeper.” Smith also reportedly exhibited signs of “grooming” and “stalking” an eighth-grade boy. WKBW reported that, in 2011, Smith sent a Facebook message to the boy using the words, “love you.”
According to the documents, Bishop Edward U. Kmiec – the former bishop of Buffalo – suspended Smith, and his parishioners were told he was on “medical leave.”
Nevertheless, the school principal reported to the diocese that Smith continued to show up at the school in 2012.
“This man is a predator and a groomer of young children,” St. Mary’s school principal Kristine Hider told the diocese in a letter. “Something needs to be done…As school principal, I feel the students in grade 8 have been injured and troubled by the actions of this man more than originally thought.”
However, in 2012, with the arrival of Malone – newly appointed by Pope Benedict XVI – Smith made the case to the new bishop he had been rehabilitated after attending a church-directed treatment center.
In November of the same year, Malone returned Smith to ministry as chaplain of the Brothers of Mercy nursing home in Clarence. Smith, however, still had access to hundreds of teens when he heard confessions at the diocese’s Catholic youth conference, held at the Adam’s Mark Hotel.
“If a teacher would have been grooming children and had inappropriate relations with a minor, they would have been fired and lost their license to teach,” Hider wrote to Malone. “Yet a priest that has a history of inappropriate contact with the youth was among the youth ministering the sacrament of Reconciliation.”
According to WKBW:
Malone wrote back to her to say that Smith’s behavior wasn’t technically in violation of the Charter for the Protection of Young People, a 2002 document adopted by American bishops in response to the sexual abuse crisis. He does not specify why he does not consider it a violation of that charter.
In 2013, the regional superior of the Brothers of Mercy wrote to Malone, reporting that Smith had inappropriately touched two young men at the nursing facility.
“We were willing to take a chance with Father Art,” Br. Jude Holzfoerster, wrote to Malone. But due to “his inappropriate conduct with employees…we must terminate Fr. Smith’s work on our campus.”
When Malone reportedly urged Smith to return to treatment, the priest responded, “Just get rid of me. I will not subject myself to that torture again.”
The following year, Smith wrote to Pope Francis that he had served as a priest for 42 years “without incident.”
According to the report:
“My canon lawyer says that there is absolutely no foundation for the way the Church has treated me,” he wrote to the Holy Father.
Later, in an email to one of Malone’s aides, Smith mentioned he retained both civil and canon lawyers and wrote, “They know I was done a severe injustice.”
In May 2015, the documents show Malone wrote to Smith to discuss “beginning to reintegrate your priestly ministry in the Diocese of Buffalo.”
The bishop then granted Smith permission to administer the Eucharist, to hear confessions, and assist other “priests in local parishes.”
Smith’s letter to Pope Francis, however, eventually required some response from Malone.
“Under my watch as diocesan Bishop…” Malone wrote to the Vatican investigative agency, “…contrary to what Father Smith stated in his letter, he once again faced boundary issues.”
“I need to note that in all cases and at all times, I have continued to express fraternal outreach, care, and pastoral support, as well as a concern for Father Art and will continue to do so,” wrote Malone.
The bishop concluded his letter to the Vatican, stating, “On the basis of his cooperation in regard to regular counseling, I have granted Father Smith faculties to function as a priest in the Diocese of Buffalo.”
“He is a person of good moral character and reputation,” Malone also wrote in a letter dated October 5, 2015, endorsing Smith to serve as a chaplain aboard a cruise. “I know nothing which would in any way limit or disqualify him from this ministry. I am unaware of anything in his background which would render him unsuitable to work with minor children.”
In 2017, after four new allegations of sexual misconduct, Malone granted Smith’s request to return as a parish priest. Smith currently lives at the rectory of Blessed Mother Teresa Church in Depew, states the news report. He was again suspended in July following another “substantiated” allegation of sexual misconduct against a minor.
The news investigation team provided the diocese’s statement regarding the report concerning Smith:
In the case of Father Art Smith, previous issues involving boundaries with minors were carefully and properly addressed. He was eventually given limited faculties at a senior living facility but no parish assignment. It wasn’t until March of this year that an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor was presented and immediately investigated. The claim was never ignored.
An editor’s note following the diocesan statement indicates it “makes no mention of the two sexual misconduct allegations made against Smith at Brothers of Mercy,” or of “the 2012 incident at St. Mary of the Lake in Hamburg,” as well as other prior allegations.
“The diocesan statement claims Fr. Smith received ‘no parish assignment,’ but its own records include a letter from Smith in August 2016, when he lists his new address as Blessed Mother Teresa Parish, 496 Terrace Blvd., Depew,” the editor’s note continues.
In a second case investigated by the news team, Father Robert Yetter – who as recently as last week was pastor at St. Mary’s of Swormville – had been accused of unwanted sexual advances by at least three young men in 2017-2018.
Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz reportedly referred Yetter for counseling, then wrote that the cases were closed.
Following the report by the news team, the diocese announced it had received a new complaint against Yetter, leading Malone to request the priest’s resignation as pastor of St. Mary’s and to place him on administrative leave while an investigation is conducted.
In one document leaked to the news team, Malone stated, “We have no obligation, I believe, to report to [the media] or anyone else on adult misconduct allegations.”
WKBW reports the diocese is attempting to find out how their documents were leaked. The news story states one diocesan attorney has charged 7 Eyewitness News with hacking their church emails – an accusation the news group states is “false.”
In Malone’s statement rejecting the calls for his resignation, he said he has focused on sexual abuse toward “children and teens” since the publication of the 2002 Charter.
“[R]eflecting on my handling of recent allegations of sexual misconduct with adults, I fear that in seeking to uphold the Charter to the letter, I may have lost sight of the Charter’s spirt, which applies to people of all ages,” the bishop said.