None of the accused priests losing their benefits have been laicized, the diocese told CNA on Wednesday; rather, they were removed from active ministry based on various determinations, including admissions of guilt, a criminal investigation, or corroboration of multiple allegations.
In several of the cases, the allegations reached back decades, Tucker told CNA.
The original list of affected priests has been updated during the week, as local news outlet WKBW reported on Thursday that two of the priests originally on the list of affected clergy had already disassociated themselves from the diocese and were no longer receiving benefits.
However, two more priests with “substantiated allegations” were added to the reported list of affected clergy later in the week; they were not originally listed by the diocese because their allegations did not involve minors.
Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, apostolic administrator of the diocese, originally told the affected priests that their benefits were being cut in an April 23 letter and in a subsequent conference call.
Local news outlet WKBW reported that the diocese’s decision was made as part of its bankruptcy settlement with survivors.
Diocesan pension plans were not affected by the settlement, the diocese said, so the affected priests could continue to draw their pensions if they were already eligible.
All but six of the affected priests were already drawing from their pension benefits, the diocese told CNA on Friday, and three of those priests are eligible for their pension and are now transitioning into the plan.
The pension fund is unaffected by the Chapter 11 proceedings, he said, as it is its own entity and has its own assets separate from the diocese.
The question of whether pension benefits, taken together with other income streams such as Social Security, would be enough to provide sustenance for accused priests is not being determined by the diocese, Tucker said, and the diocese “is not assuming the role of determining what each of these priests requires to cover their monthly expenses given that each individual has his own circumstances and other resources.”
However, Tucker said, “Bishop Scharfenberger is himself a canon lawyer, as is Msgr. Sal Manganello, who is vicar general and judicial vicar [of the diocese.”
“This was a decision taken in discussions with the creditors committee - as Bishop Sharfenberger’s letter [to the affected priests] made clear, the diocese recognizes that there are certain canonical obligations to ensure these individuals are not left destitute and is addressing this.”
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In 2018, the diocese released a list of 42 priests it said had been removed from ministry, retired, or left ministry following allegations of abuse of a minor. However, in October, WKBW reported that the number of priests the diocese had originally listed was actually more than 100.