“The Diocese is directing these individuals to information and available resources elsewhere for their health insurance and other sustenance needs going forward," Tucker added.
Canon law requires that dioceses provide for the "decent support" of all incardinated clerics, with bishops required to offer at least the provision for basic sustenance, even to clerics not in ministry.
In the wake of the sexual abuse scandals in the United States, several priests either accused or found to have committed sexual abuse of minors have appealed to the Vatican regarding their right to basic sustenance, including access to health care, and that right has been upheld by Vatican officials.
The priests who will lose support from the diocese remain clerics, incardinated in the Buffalo diocese.
“None have been laicized,” Tucker told CNA. “These are priests whose faculties have been suspended based on substantiated claims of abuse.”
While the priests in question have been accused of sexual misconduct, the diocese did not specify how many have been found guilty, or even how many have been given formal trials in either canon or civil law.
“The allegations pertain to many years ago - decades in fact, and precede the formation of the Independent Review Board. That said, whatever investigative process in place at the time determined that the allegations were ‘substantiated’ either because they admitted the offense or there was a criminal investigation, or allegations were corroborated based on multiple allegations - and those priests were then relieved of their priestly faculties,” Tucker said.
“In later cases (2002 and after), there was an independent investigation and an Independent Review Board recommendation. In some cases, the diocese initiated a canonical process and in other cases it did not,” Tucker added.
The decision was communicated in an April 23 letter to the 23 priests from Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, temporary administrator of the diocese, and in a conference call.
Scharfenberger told the priests that while sustenance payments and health care coverage will cease, the changes will not affect existing pension payments.
Some priests, however, are concerned those payments will not be enough, and it is not clear whether all those affected by the change qualify for a pension.
Michael Taheri, a lawyer for one affected priest, told Buffalo News that the diocese’s behavior is “unconscionable.”
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“As a Catholic, I’m ashamed,” Taheri said.
His client, Fr. Samuel Venne, was removed from ministry in 2018 after an allegation of sexual abuse dating back decades. Venne told Buffalo News he was a cancer survivor with no other income beyond $500 per month from Social Security.
“How am I going to pay for my medicines? Where am I going to live?” Venne asked Scharfenberger.
The priest also said that he has consistently maintained his innocence, and passed a polygraph test as part of the diocese’s investigation into the allegation against him.
The announcement by Buffalo comes as the diocese has had to make staffing cuts and filed for bankruptcy in recent months.
In February, the diocese filed for Chapter 11 reorganization after being named in hundreds of new sexual abuse lawsuits filed in New York state courts. Another RICO lawsuit was filed in August alleging a “pattern of racketeering activity” by the diocese.