More than 900 abuse claims filed against Buffalo diocese under Child Victims Act

St. Joseph Cathedral St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo, N.Y. | CiEll/Shutterstock

At Saturday’s close of the “lookback” window created by New York’s Child Victims Act, more than 900 child sex abuse claims against the Buffalo diocese were counted by The Buffalo News. 

The total number of abuse claims, which as of Monday is 924, is more than twice the largest number of claims ever filed in a U.S. diocese bankruptcy proceeding since 2004, they reported.

Ilan D. Scharf, an attorney for the committee of unsecured creditors in the case, told The News that some claims are duplicates or amended claims, while others may still be in the mail or have not been processed yet. 

The sex abuse claims within the Diocese of Buffalo account for almost one-tenth of all “lookback” abuse claims in New York, which recorded 10,857 claims, The News said.

Religious establishments, and especially Catholic institutions, accounted for “slightly more than half of all lawsuits, according to a preliminary analysis by Child USA,” they said. 

The lookback window, which closed Aug. 14, allowed child sex abuse victims to file lawsuits after their statute of limitations had ended.

106 clergy sex abuse claims that were resolved in 2019 by compensation settlements with the Buffalo diocese are not included in the total number, The News reported.

Bishop Michael Fisher of Buffalo said Aug. 16 that the matter of sex abuse “is a tragedy of truly epic proportions and as I have maintained since day one as bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo, it is of paramount importance to deal with these allegations forthrightly and to work to repair the enormous damage that has been done not only to the reputation of the Church here in Western New York, but most importantly to the lives of those affected,” he said.

He continued: “It is my hope and fervent prayer – and I know the hope of many of the Faithful across our Diocese – that we can move forward and ultimately bring a close to this very painful and sordid chapter which in no way obscures the tremendous good accomplished each and every day by our Church and those who live faithfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The lookback window, which began Aug. 13, 2019, was originally scheduled to close in August 2020, but was extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four of New York’s dioceses— Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rockville Centre — have declared bankruptcy amid the lawsuits brought under the Child Victims Act.

Although the New York Catholic Conference initially opposed the Child Victims Act, the conference eventually dropped its opposition. When the bill was amended to allow lawsuits by alleged victims of not only religious clergy, but also alleged victims of public employees such as public school teachers, the conference stopped opposing it.

A federal bankruptcy judge on March 31 ruled that 36 abuse lawsuits against Buffalo parishes and schools would remain on hold until Oct. 1, 2021, so as not to interfere with settlement payouts that were a part of the bankruptcy process.

The diocese and its former bishops are also facing a lawsuit from the state of New York.

In November 2020, the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, sued the diocese in the state supreme court; Bishop Emeritus Richard Malone, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Edward Grosz, and Buffalo’s then-apostolic administrator, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, were all named in the lawsuit.

The state alleged that the diocese, Bishop Malone, and Bishop Grosz, all failed properly to investigate claims of clergy sex abuse, to monitor priests with credible abuse accusations, and to take action against priests credibly accused.

In addition, the state is seeking restitution from Bishop Malone and Bishop Grosz, and a ban on their serving “a secular fiduciary role in a nonprofit or charitable organization” in the state.

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A judge ruled in February that Bishop Malone and Bishop Grosz must pay their own legal fees, but may still have the right to seek reimbursement from the diocese’s insurers for their legal costs, the Buffalo News reported.

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