The Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has agreed to submit to sweeping secular oversight of its operations in a legal settlement reached on Tuesday with the New York attorney general, Letitia James, resolving a lawsuit that accused the church and its officials of a yearslong cover-up of sexual abuse. Under the agreement, which is the first of its kind in New York, priests who have been credibly accused of abuse will be assigned an individual monitor with law enforcement experience to ensure they comply with a list of restrictions. Those monitors will be overseen by Kathleen McChesney, a former high-ranking F.B.I. official who has also led the child protection office at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. As part of the settlement, two former Buffalo bishops, Richard Malone and Edward Grosz, will also be banned for life from holding any fiduciary role in a charity registered in New York. “For far too long, the Buffalo Diocese and its leaders failed their most basic duty to guide and protect our children,” Ms. James said in a statement. “In choosing to defend the perpetrators of sexual abuse instead of defending the most vulnerable, the Buffalo Diocese and its leaders breached parishioners’ trust and caused many a crisis of faith.”
Ms. James described the arrangement laid out in the settlement as “a much-needed era of independent oversight and accountability” for the diocese, which includes roughly 600,000 Catholics in and around the state’s second largest city. The settlement brings an end to the first legal action taken against the Roman Catholic Church by New York State, which launched investigations into all eight of the state’s Catholic dioceses as part of a nationwide wave of abuse inquiries that began in 2018. The Buffalo suit was filed in November 2020. The attorney general’s other seven investigations remain ongoing.
“The settlement that the diocese and the New York attorney general have agreed to confirms that the rigorous policies and protocols the diocese has put in place over the past several years are the right ones to ensure that all young people and other vulnerable persons are safe and never at risk of abuse of any kind by a member of the clergy, diocesan employee, volunteer or member of a religious order serving in the Diocese of Buffalo,” Michael W. Fisher, the bishop of Buffalo, said in a statement. Ms. James’s lawsuit, filed in November 2018, employed a novel legal strategy that accused the diocese and its fiduciary officers of violating the state law that governs religious charities by failing to follow church policy on the handling of sexual abuse allegations. Those policies were introduced in 2002 after a series of investigative reports into clergy sexual abuse by The Boston Globe.
Mr. Malone, the former Buffalo bishop banned from charity work under the settlement, held a senior position in the Diocese of Boston when The Globe uncovered the sex abuse crisis in 2002.
He was then installed as the bishop of Buffalo, where the diocese careened from crisis to crisis under his tenure. He resigned from that role in 2019 after a Vatican investigation into his mishandling of the abuse crisis; the diocese filed for bankruptcy the next year. In its bankruptcy filing, it cited the sheer number of lawsuits from people who said they were sexually abused by diocesan priests as children.
Liam Stack is a religion correspondent on the Metro desk, covering New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. He was previously a political reporter based in New York and a Middle East correspondent based in Cairo. @liamstack